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Seeps to Swimming Pools: Water In Nevada’s Desert

“All my friends told me not to film with you. But whatever,” Hank grumbles. Hank Vogler, a Nevada sheep rancher, is in the fight of his life to protect his water rights from being snatched up by a distant city, laying waste to all he has created.

Hank Vogler stands beside a fence on his ranch Hank has spent over 40 years here in Spring Valley, Nevada, a large tract of desert land on the central eastern side of the state. He’s grown his ranch from two cows and seven sheep to a large operation with sheep herds scattered around this massive landscape. The size and influence of his ranch pales in comparison to his nemesis however, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), the governing body for water in Las Vegas.

In the late 1980s SNWA began researching how to get more water to the city. Need More Sheep Co at sunriseAs the population of Las Vegas swelled, they needed to find alternative ways to procure water. One of those methods sent engineers north to the sparsely populated desert to develop new supplies of water.

Hank is one of the people sparsely populating the desert, and he needs every drop of water he has. As he told me, he doesn’t have title to enough water to fill a swimming pool in Las Vegas. His livelihood depends only on small springs and seeps in the hills. SNWA carries a big check book, however, and many of his neighbors have been unable to resist the hefty purchase fee – frequently being offered at double and triple the going value.

SNWA has scooped up dozens of ranches in the area, hoping to collect enough water rights to build a pipeline to Las Vegas, nearly 300 miles away. In the interim, as SNWA needs to manage the ranches around Spring Valley, Hank has found a target on his back. Pipeline sits in Nevada protesting transfer projectHis outspoken opposition to the water transfer scheme has made living in his community difficult, causing poor relations with neighbors, and the knowledge that at any moment they could turn on the pipeline and suck all the water out from underneath him.

This drives Hank to do everything in his power to protect his way of life, even if it means talking to a filmmaker from Washington, D.C..

The Water Is for Fighting project documents the challenges facing our nations freshwater resources. Corey Robinson is a filmmaker and Young Explorer Grantee collecting these stories through film, still pictures and words.

Follow along with @coreyrobinson #w4f2015

“Whisky is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

Spring Valley, Nevada