The Nye County Water Board Monday decided to participate in hearings before the Public Utilities Commission regarding Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada’s integrated resource plan only to submit comments, but county commissioners the next day voted to formally intervene.
Nye County Water Board General Manager Darrell Lacy said the county would have to pay for an attorney to participate if it had intervener status. Water board member Donna Lamm didn’t think it was worth the expense.
“If we don’t have an attorney representing us we might as well not be involved,” County Commissioner Butch Borasky said.
In a sometimes testy relationship between Nye County and UICN, including court disputes, water board members Monday talked about the positive improvements to the system in the plan by the largest water provider in Pahrump Valley.
Water board member John Bosta pushed hard to get his board to file to intervene but he cast the only vote in favor.
“I think it’s most important that this water board protect the interests of water in this valley and I think if we do not intervene we have no standing,” Bosta said. He said the majority of the people in the community have domestic wells that must be protected.
Lacy told the water board the company was proposing beneficial use of effluent and some piping modifications that could benefit the community. But he told county commissioners UICN could enact a future rate increase based on the improvements. The county is mainly interested in improvements to sewer plant no. 3 at the former Willow Creek Golf Course and the continued beneficial reuse of effluent, Lacy said.
“We’re in the middle of a groundwater management plan update as well as a Pahrump master plan update for the planning and zoning process. We potentially may want to intervene to make sure the projects they’re doing are consistent with the projects we at the county are doing,” he said.
County Commissioner Dan Schinhofen asked the water board also to intervene.
“Being the largest water purveyor in the valley, I would like to see this water board and the committee get a chance to really look into what they’re proposing and how that would affect the overall plans for water,” Schinhofen said.
UICN reported 4,860 line connections in 2013, all but 279 were residential, serving 28 percent of the Pahrump population. UICN Regional Director Wendy Barnett said her company is required to file the integrated resource plan every three years, which sets out a capital improvements plan for the next 20 years.
Utilities Inc. states the IRP attempts to address problems with water pressure, water delivery, fire protection, water that wasn’t accounted for, sewage treatment and collection, reclaimed water and included recommendations on how to support plans to reduce the over-appropriation of water.
Barnett told county commissioners, “I think intervening in an IRP is the best place if you want to be a participant in what drives rates.”
“I think it’s the appropriate place particularly if you want to go for or against something in the plan,” she said.
Water board member Michael Lach agreed with Lacy on the benefits of some of the improvements, like looping dead end lines. But he was concerned about costs to the ratepayers. UICN estimated if all the projects were completed it would require a 12.7 percent hike in residential water rates and a 3.5-percent increase in sewer rates, which is dependent on PUC approval.
“Obviously you knew those dead ends were there when the utility bought the previous utility. I’m just trying to figure out when capital improvements — which obviously values your company a lot more — not be passed on to ratepayers,” Lach said.
Barnett told water board members since she became regional director she tried to slow down the rate of improvements so there isn’t as big an impact on the rates. She said when UICN filed their first rate case in 2006 after taking over Central Nevada Utilities Corporation following the Preferred Equities Corporation bankruptcy in 2003 they signed a stipulated agreement with Nye County to loop a lot of dead end lines.
“I just don’t want the ratepayers and the rates for the water to go up astronomically to the point where now it’s going to be cost prohibitive to do it,” Lach said. “There’s more lots for people to build on by doing this. But we as the water board have to protect these rates to a certain level.”
While the installation of 3,000 feet of pipeline to Firebird Circle was done to connect to fire hydrants on the west side of Highway 160, water board member John MacLaughlin said hopefully the utility line extension will open up development in that area of vacant lots which stretches from just south of the Rebel station on Highway 372 to Calvada Boulevard.
“The main driver is will it support fire flow. But will it support growth? Yes it will,” Barnett said.
County commissioners Tuesday voted on an agreement with water rights attorney George Benesch, who would be paid a fee of $215 per hour for protesting cooperative water project applications and other water related matters that may affect the county.
Bosta told the water board, “There are times this board has to be adversarial. You can’t always be goody two shoes, give everybody what they want.”