The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to make a decision on a petition to protect 35 springsnail species under the Endangered Species Act. The snails are threatened by groundwater development, including plans to pump water from rural Nevada and Utah to Las Vegas; a proposed 306-mile-long pipeline would transport more than 57 billion gallons of groundwater annually from the Great Basin, which could cause the water table to drop more than 200 feet and dry up the springs that support the springsnails, as well as countless other species.
“Scientists have determined this scheme to feed urban sprawl in Las Vegas could drive these springsnails to extinction,” said Rob Mrowka, an ecologist at the Center. “The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s water grab threatens not just these snails and hundreds of other species, but important water supplies for rural residents and future generations.”
In 2010 the Center and allies petitioned for protection for the springsnails under the Endangered Species Act. The Service determined that the springsnails “may warrant” protection as endangered species, but has failed to make required 12-month findings to
decide whether to give the species protection.
Springsnails improve water quality by consuming decaying matter and algae; they are an important food source for fish, birds and amphibians. Found in Clark, Lincoln, Nye and White Pine counties in Nevada, Beaver and Millard counties in Utah and Inyo County, Calif., the springsnails depend on consistent groundwater flow. Thus reductions in that flow will have an immediate impact on their survival.
“Endangered Species Act protection is the only hope for saving these springsnails, which are a key part of Great Basin ecology,” said Mrowka. “Saving them would also save habitat for many other plants and animals in Nevada, Utah and California.”
The draft “environmental impact statement ” for the pipeline found that 305 springs, 112 miles of streams, 8,000 acres of wetlands and 191,506 acres of shrubland wildlife habitat are threatened by the proposal. Pumping could result in a drop in the land surface of more than five feet over 525 square miles, as well as the generation of 34,742 tons of windblown dust per year due to the death of vegetation. The pipeline threatens five national wildlife refuges, two national parks, four state wildlife areas and seven state parks. It is expected to have irreversible effects on agriculture and livestock in rural Nevada and Utah.