By Mark Waite
A proposed landfill at a gravel pit on East Simkins Road and concerns over a large assisted living project on West Gamebird Road were two recent examples of how water concerns are being examined more carefully in making planning decisions.
The Nye County Water District board Monday eyed a more active role in the planning process for new development with the hopes of avoiding a designation of Pahrump as a critical water management area by the state engineer’s office.
Recently the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission began receiving reports on the potential impact of a project on community water resources along with the usual zoning reports. It includes information on the proximity of a project to public water systems and water protection areas, whether it could degrade ground water quality and how it would affect water quantity.
Nye County Planner Cheryl Beeman talked about requiring developers to increase the water rights dedicated for a parcel from the current two acre feet. The county could build retention basins for stormwater runoff, she said. Nye County could promote construction built to LEED standards through its fee structure — which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — that will reduce energy and water costs in a “green” construction concept. County codes could be changed to allow the use of recycled effluent for irrigation.
“We can use building codes to increase water efficiency in buildings which would reduce the burden on the infrastructure,” Beeman said.
The county could set up the impact fee ordinance to promote development in areas where there is infrastructure, she said.
“We could use our impact fees to promote development and look at our impact fees to identify service areas within the community where we can relate the cost of impact fees to what is truly on the ground at a certain lot level. If the existing infrastructure is there, the impact fee should be reduced,” Beeman said.
Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada Regional Director Wendy Barnett gave a report on their proposed water conservation plan, which includes a $50 rebate for buying a water-efficient toilet, a $75 rebate for installing a water-efficient washing machines and a $75 credit for removing salt cedars, up to a $300 limit per premise.
But Barnett said the proposed violation fees are controversial. UICN wants to charge a $25 fee for tampering with a water meter, increasing up to $100 for the third offense and $250 for the fourth offense.
“The violation fees are here for a couple of reasons. They’re not here to be punitive, they’re here to encourage good behavior. One of the problems we have is accurately measuring consumption. People tamper with their meters, they park cars on their meters, they park cactus on their meters, they turn water on and off without applying for service. That kind of behavior makes it difficult to accurately measure how much water is used in Pahrump,” Barnett said.
Like Nye County, UICN also views education as a tool to encourage water conservation, like water meters that detect leaks, she said, and a list of plants for xeriscaping, which can cut by one-third the amount of water a yard with turf may use, as much as 33,000 gallons of water per summer.
Beeman said she lives in a UICN service area, but when she inquired from the utility company, if she used the 18,000 gallons the owner of a well is entitled to by Nevada law, her monthly bill would be $220.
If every home in Nevada replaced old shower heads with more efficient ones, it would save more than 6 million gallons per day, Barnett said, enough to fill the Bellagio Casino fountain 100 times in one year.
“We all here realize conserving water is about protecting our natural resource, it’s also about protecting your wallet from your monthly bill,” Barnett said. “What a lot of people don’t realize is water conservation is about protecting us from future rates. Pahrump is in a very unique situation and Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada with the amount of supply and capacity that we have. If people truly conserved I wouldn’t have to build another tank, I wouldn’t have to build another well.”
Water board member Lee White had questions over the UICN drought plan. Barnett said her utility company was required to draw up the plan, it could prohibit outdoor water use at times, require landscaping to comply with new ordinances, and in a stage three drought, require mandatory retrofits of shower heads and toilets when buildings are remodeled.
“Who determines a drought condition? What are the parameters?” White asked.
Barnett said it would be the state climatologist. When there are concerns about drought a committee is formed, she said.
“I was born and raised in Las Vegas and they’ve been in complete panic mode for 40 years over there. They keep expanding and keep putting in golf courses. I just wonder how much of it is hype, to be honest with you,” White said.
Nye County Water District General Manager Darrell Lacy said it would take longer for a drought to impact groundwater levels in the Pahrump Basin. But he said the water district should get involved in the current update of the master plan for the Pahrump Regional Planning District to be sure water resource issues are considered.
“It has to be more rural residential, more low residential and fewer high density lots in the valley,” Lacy said.
High density residential construction should be focused into a core area where there is already infrastructure, he said.
Lacy’s comments followed a presentation by Nye County Planning Director Steve Osborne, who estimated a full build out of 209,000 dwelling units if all the land in Pahrump Valley is developed according to zoning codes. Based on 2.37 people per dwelling that would mean a Pahrump population of 495,000.
Low density residential lots total 20,000 acres, but they are one-acre lot sizes. Medium density residential totals 14,000 acres, with each 8,000-square-foot lot that adds up to 76,000 lots. Mixed use zoning allows 3,000 square feet per dwelling and a possible 110,000 dwelling units based on current zoning.
Water board consultant Oz Wichman will make a presentation at the next meeting on options for importing water. It would be based on providing 150 gallons per person per day.
Lacy said there are some “zombie subdivisions” that are far from the nearest infrastructure that will be difficult to service. He suggested getting rid of some of the potential lots in the valley.
Water board chairman Tim McCall wanted an ordinance restricting activities on the alluvial fan, he was concerned specifically about several unused gravel pits being used as dump sites. The water board has the power to pass ordinances. That will have to wait for a future meeting as Deputy District Attorney Charles Watkins said it wasn’t on the agenda.
“Anything on the alluvial fan is not to be used as a dump. That is our groundwater recharge source,” he said.