By Mark Waite
A pipeline to import water 70 miles into Pahrump would cost $172 million, according to a study by Nye County Water District consultant Oz Wichman.
When that cost is financed over 40 years and divided up among 30,000 people, Wichman’s study estimated it would amount to a monthly fee of $12.15 per person per month, assuming the customers had to pay 100 percent of the financial obligation. An interest rate of 4 percent could double the monthly payment to $24 per person.
Wichman’s sample study, presented to the water board Monday, calculated the costs of pumping 5,000 acre feet of water annually from Crater Flat, an area southeast of Beatty, near where Sterling Gold has been exploring.
Pahrump Valley receives about 12,000 acre feet per year in recharge from the Spring Mountains. An acre foot is enough to supply two families of five for a year. The state engineer recently warned about the over-allocation of water rights in Pahrump, though latest figures show 13,352 acre feet of pumping.
The report is for a possible project 20 to 50 years in the future. Wichman’s report assumes consumption from wells at 150 gallons per day, through Greg Hafen II from Pahrump Utility Company said their customers use 114 gallons.
Wichman’s introduction states: “it is possible that the future population in the Pahrump hydrographic basin could outstrip the groundwater resources that lie beneath the community. Water importation may provide one piece of a larger workable solution for the future water demand in the hydrographic basin and for the community of Pahrump.”
Though Planning Director Steve Osborne estimated Pahrump’s population at full buildout, with current zoning, could reach 495,000 people, Wichman said a fractional portion of that population could outstrip groundwater resources.
A preliminary engineering report would be the first main step in such a project, which would address not only particulars for water importation but a detailed assessment of the utilities it would serve, including suggested rates. The water district would then have to obtain the water rights and permits. Financing would follow.
“I’ve been asked to compare this to the Southern Nevada Water Authority project. It’s wildly different. This project shows we would import water solely from within Nye County boundaries,” Wichman said. But he said, “You’re going to be faced with similar challenges and those challenges are extensive challenges.”
The Southern Nevada Water Authority has a plan to pump 84,000 acre feet of water from Lincoln and White Pine counties 300 miles to Las Vegas Valley to service 150,000 homes, a project estimated to cost $3.2 billion but as much as $7.3 billion in a worst case scenario. That project could come to the forefront if the water level at Lake Mead continues to drop.
It’s not difficult to calculate drilling costs, but it can require drilling a few wells to find good water, Wichman said; he anticipated drilling eight wells to find five wells with good water. Wichman has some experience in that matter with the Manhattan water project.
“Finding water that doesn’t require treatment is a pretty tough job in some geographic areas,” Wichman said. For that reason he suggests drilling deep wells down to the carbonate aquifer. He said in Gabbs, for example, a community with only 145 meters, it would’ve more than doubled their water rates if the water had to be treated for fluoride.
Wichman calculates it would cost $3,000 per acre foot to purchase water rights and an equal amount of money for the expected legal battle before the Nevada Division of Water Resources.
Nye County would want to drill five wells, each capable of 1,500 gallons per minute, four wells running continuously and another as a backup. Each well is assumed to be 14 inches in diameter and 1,000 feet deep, costing $1 million apiece.
The pipeline cost was estimated at $120 per foot of pipe installed, or $44.35 million, which doesn’t account for any problem areas encountered like hard rock.
Eight lift stations were written into the budget at $1 million apiece as well.
The project would require 25 million gallons of water storage and would cost $12.5 million to construct five, 5 million gallon water tanks. Construction of new, overhead power was estimated at $100,000 per mile for 30 miles.
Administration, engineering and inspection costs were pegged at 25 percent of the project, or $20.7 million. Contingency is another 15 percent, or $15.5 million.
Wichman said the $24 per person cost of importing water, with interest, would add up to a lot for a family of three at about $72 per month. That doesn’t include the utility charges. But he said, “it’s unlikely you’re going to lay that whole project cost solely at the feet of 30,000 people.”
If the pipeline were funded through a series of projects and the customer base increased, Wichman said it might work.
Wichman said he based his report on interviews with the Nevada Division of Water Resources, contractors, hydrologists, attorneys, environmental compliance consultants and others.
Wichman recommended pulling together information on the groundwater from the Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Office.
“My first recommendation is we have an uncertain future for the repository office as I understand it. You’ve got people working in those offices that have all the information gathered about the early warning drilling program, about all those holes that were drilled, the backup work, the geologic studies,” Wichman said. “The repository is no longer funded and in a year or two those people are scattered to the four winds. It’s going to be quite a bit of work gathering information on those drilling reports into something usable for a water exploration project.”
He also recommended taking a closer look at operations and maintenance for a pipeline to import water.
Wichman said he’s had discussions with Cameron McRae from the Nye County School District, about drilling their own well for irrigation, where it would cost 15 cents per 1,000 gallons to pump it from a golf course or a field. By contrast, in Tonopah it costs 92 cents per 1,000 gallons to pump water over a hill, he said.
While the talk of a pipeline is 20 years or more away, Wichman said, “rather than swallow the chicken whole, start doing a little here and a little there and start moving in that direction.”
Nye County Water Board General Manager Darrell Lacy said they picked Crater Flat because it was an area with some water not being heavily used and it’s not that far from Pahrump.
But he said, “When you start talking about importation you start talking about conflicts. Just about all the water out there someone is using it or has plans to use it.”
The nuclear waste repository program accumulated a lot of information, but mainly on water quality coming from Yucca Mountain, Lacy said. Nevertheless he said it could be useful as the basis for a study.
* Water board directors voted unanimously to extend Wichman’s contract another year. He will continue to work part-time, up to 80 hours per month, but his pay will increase from $40 to $48 per hour. The contract includes a clause not to exceed amount of $46,000 annually.
Wichman is the husband of Nye County District 1 Commissioner Lorinda Wichman.