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Billboard on Highway 93 north of Ely highlights that Salt Lake City Developers are looking to profit from Nevada's water, land, and special places, spurring the fight over energy and water in White Pine County.

Ely, NV –– A coalition of groups and private individuals working as the Step Up For Steptoe campaign unveiled a billboard on Highway 93 between McGill and Ely, raising awareness about rPlus Hydro’s destructive White Pine Waterpower project.

The message highlights that an out-of-state entity, rPlus Hydro, is pushing a $3.2 billion effort that will harm water supplies, tourism, wildlife, and small businesses in White Pine County. The White Pine Waterpower project will require pumping billions of gallons of groundwater to fill two reservoirs, one in the foothills and one atop the Duck Creek Range. The project will blow an 8-story hole inside one of the range’s high points so water from the lower reservoir can be pumped uphill — using fossil fuel energy — to the upper reservoir. Then water will be sent downhill to generate electricity during peak demand.

 rPlus does not yet have a contract with a major utility like NV Energy to rate-base the expensive project.  NV Energy charged ratepayers $3.5 million for a study on the project that the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada approved in March of 2022. The results of that study have not been widely shared by NV Energy to members of the public.

The release of the billboard comes as rPlus and its subsidiary White Pine Waterpower face considerable opposition in Eastern Nevada to its License Application under review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A new hydrologic report from the Step Up For Steptoe coalition highlights that the 100-year project will reduce the water table for Ely, McGill, farmers and wildlife –– sucking springs dry and imposing new burdens on human, plant and animal communities.

“This billboard sends a message to the 1.6 million who annually drive by on this stretch of Highway 93: White Pine County’s water, land and resources are not available for Salt Lake City real estate developers who want local groundwater for ridiculous hydro power schemes,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network. “FERC commissioners must deny the license application for this unnecessary and wasteful project.”

“There are better options,” said Rick and Delaine Spilsbury, Ely Shoshone tribal elders. “We should not be destroying our lands and waters for a costly boondoggle.”

“The Nevada Northern Railway is known for its scenic views, dark-sky opportunities, and access to a National Historic Landmark,” said Mark Bassett, President of the railway. “We cannot let this out-of-town developer harm White Pine County’s multi-million-dollar  tourism industry for expensive and dangerous electrons that do not benefit the local community. From ratepayers to taxpayers –– from hunters to stargazers –– this project is a lose-lose for the State of Nevada and White Pine County.”

“The Steptoe Valley aquifer is already experiencing a decline,” said Cody Odgers, a local farmer and chairman of the White Pine Natural Resource Advisory Committee. “We are seeing data that show this project will impact existing water rights users.”

“The project will wipe out multiple sage grouse leks, limit recreation, and forever alter the beautiful Duck Creek Range,” said Shaaron Netherton, executive director for Friends of Nevada Wilderness. “FERC needs to halt this project before we lose more wildlife and open spaces.”  




The Step Up For Steptoe campaign was born in 2023 after rPlus’ proposal for a Final Licensing Application (FLA) began moving through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

A recent report from the campaign shows that the project’s groundwater pumping could cause harm to existing water rights holders and inflict drawdown in the Steptoe Valley aquifer, impacting water rights maintained by Ely, McGill, farmers and others. The Steptoe Valley aquifer is already showing declines throughout the basin. Additional pumping will exacerbate a growing problem. On paper there are more than 140,000 acre feet of water rights appropriated in Steptoe Valley. The perennial yield is 70,000 acre feet. But well data shows that the current pumping of 50,000 is dropping aquifer levels.

Documents in the FLA show that multiple sage grouse leks will be wiped out in the Duck Creek Range. At least 1 million cubic yards of waste rock will be spread throughout the foothills of the Duck Creek Range after the company detonates an 8-story hole in those mountains. The project will interfere with the operations of the Nevada Northern Railway’s world-famous tours and impact a new expansion of the railway, which is a National Historic Landmark.

Even FERC has questions on this project. In 2023, the commission released a letter detailing more than 100 deficiencies and dozens of incomplete aspects of rPlus’ application.  In 2022, NV Energy asked the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada for approval to fund a $3.5 million due-diligence study. While a rate-basing agreement to bankroll the project hasn’t been publicly disclosed, NV Energy’s potential support for the effort could mean major hikes and impacts for ratepayers. Until NV Energy releases the full contents of the study, ratepayers will not know what the utility is thinking about the project.



Kyle Roerink

Great Basin Water Network

Executive Director



Mark Bassett

Nevada Northern Railway




Shaaron Netherton

Friends of Nevada Wilderness

Executive Director





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