By Mark Waite
Pahrump Regional Planning Commission Chairman Terry Hand had concerns Wednesday a community source water protection plan would result in more regulations for businesses coming into Pahrump Valley.
RPC members nevertheless passed a motion by member Jennifer McCall to issue a letter of support for the plan.
Rachel Kryder, with BEC Environmental, said the RPC could include the proximity to a public water source when approving a project, but added most of the developments of concern would already require a conditional use permit. Nye County Planning Director Steve Osborne said it could be one of the conditions of approval.
Hand said the water source provisions are already regulated by agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Building Code. He cited the example of the Maverik gas station which included a number of conditions in the conditional use permit. Kryder said that gas station is quite a ways away from the nearest public water system.
“I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t want to put another level of regulations in, we’re already covered by the IBC, the EDA, everything else when someone wants to come in,” Hand said.
RPC member John Koenig said he’s not an engineer and not qualified to make such decisions when considering zoning applications.
“If a guy wants to put a dog kennel next to a restaurant, should I worry about that because he’s going to have the dogs out back urinating in the grass and it’s a private restaurant and there’s a well right there?” Koenig asked.
Kryder said, “no one wants any new regulations. We’re not proposing any new regulations or rules.”
Instead she emphasized the plan is an informational tool, it could be as simple as handing out a brochure of how far a development will be from a water system. There may be a recommendation to do the grading for a new development away from a public well, she said.
Nye County Water District Manager Darrell Lacy said it is important for the RPC to have information on what possible chemicals an incoming business may be using that applies for a zone change in a rural residential zone, for example.
“It’s just information. That’s why we’re bringing it to you today. If I bring it to you today it will be one more tool in your tool box,” Lacy said.
Lacy told Koenig the normal notification process for neighbors within 300 feet may not include a capture zone of a well. Kryder said the capture zone of restaurants and churches is low, but the zone for utility companies like Utilities Inc. or Desert Utilities is much larger.
The Bureau of Safe Drinking Water Standards states the horizontal distance between water supplies and potential pollution sources must be as great as practical but no less than 100 feet, the plan suggested a contaminant source inventory for any projects within 1,000 feet.
The plan defines a public water system as one that serves 25 customers or more or has 15 or more connections. The plan lists 80 public water systems in Nye County which encompasses one spring and 128 wells.
Planners identified 244 potential contaminant sources in the county including 56 gas stations or repair shops; 32 personal storage yards that have a lot of materials which could include contaminants; 25 medical and educational sites; 25 fuel storage tanks; 24 golf courses, parks or nurseries; 12 industrial sites; 11 agriculture sites and 11 municipal waste sites.
Just in Pahrump, the plan identified 47 public drinking water systems and 124 potential contaminant sources, Kryder said.
“No potential contaminant sources were identified as being of immediate concern. That’s good news. I think people are all real glad of that. Also it’s important to keep in mind the idea and purpose of this plan is so it doesn’t ever get to that point,” Kryder said.
The study doesn’t consider septic tanks as potential contaminant sources, she said.
“Though septic systems are numerous and often very concentrated in particular areas, it’s unclear what level of risk that poses in Pahrump Valley. I know a lot of the studies were inconclusive. So the team decided not to identify them at this time as potential contaminant sources,” Kryder said.
The work plan calls for continuing identification of potential contamination sites; identifying leaking, underground storage tanks; reviewing inactive public water system wells and inventorying orphaned wells; groundwater monitoring; notifications from the state for new drilling permits and mine dewatering; acquiring sensitive properties through tax sales and what Kryder said may be the easiest element, a public education campaign.
“Though septic systems and personal storage yards occur in communities throughout Nye County, the team decided public education would be the best way to balance the need for drinking water protection with personal property rights,” the study states.
Kryder said the plan was a joint effort of various communities and public water system operators. If the state endorses the plan, communities have a better shot at obtaining funding from the Nevada Division of Environmental protection for various projects.
Kryder said the attendance at different presentations throughout the county, which has included communities like Round Mountain, Beatty, Tonopah and Amargosa Valley, has often just included members of the team working on the plan. The Pahrump Town Board earlier this month voted 3-1 to table the item and bring it back for consideration later this month.
Kryder said Douglas County had a community source water protection plan approved by the state and added two additional lines on their site development check list, asking whether a project lies in a water protection zone.
She said the plan needs to be updated occasionally, especially in areas with potentially high growth like Pahrump, where there may be new public water systems, an increase in pumping rates and potentially new contaminant sources.
The Nevada Division of Water Resources estimated there were over 9,000 domestic wells in Nye County in 2004, with pumping rates that ranged from 542 gallons per day to 893 gallons.
The Nye County Water Resources Plan estimated total water use in Nye County in 2000 was 101,000 acre feet annually, a figure projected to rise to 166,000 acre feet by 2020. But the 2004 study was prepared before the collapse in the construction industry.
The water protection study identified six potential concerns in the future for contamination: storm water runoff, sanitary sewer infrastructure failures, methamphetamine production, orphaned wells, drilling for oil, gas, geothermal and water as well as mine dewatering.
Lacy said, “I strongly recommend staff start bringing that information to you when it comes forward. In most of the cases it’s not going to be an issue. But having the information available, since most everyone in this valley drinks well water, I think it’s important we at least understand where the potential problems are so we can make decisions as government officials and staff that are involved in trying to protect the citizens of this valley.”