By Mark Waite
Jay Dixon, president of the Nevada Water Resources Association, decided it was time to do more outreach after a past president showed up at a Washoe County home asking when the last time the property owner had her well tested, and found the woman living there didn’t even know she had a well.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem in Pahrump, where almost 70 people showed up for a well owners’ workshop at the Bob Ruud Community Center Monday night.
“One of the nice things about coming to Pahrump is you guys are passionate about water,” Dixon said.
Participants got to hear about the technical aspects of a well. Dixon urged all well owners to look up the well driller’s report on the Nevada Division of Water Resources Internet site. All drilling contractors, if they followed the law, are required to file this report, he said. It lists the owner of the well, location, well depth and other information.
“Take an area like Pahrump where there’s like 11,000 domestic wells. The state engineer doesn’t have the personnel to regulate everybody who wants to drill a well but they do enforce it through drilling contractors,” Dixon said. “These contractors have to pass a test. They have to prove they can pass the regulations and construct that well to a certain level of quality.”
Dixon said the deeper the well, the more electricity it takes to pump that water to the surface.
A well driller should be aware of the water chemistry around the well, he said. Over time, sometimes encrusting can clog up the well casing, Dixon said. The well should be tested for a period of time when its installed to determine the pumping results, he said.
“You all have a serious responsibility not only to protect your water supply but everything that happens with your well affects all your neighbors. So it’s a pretty serious responsibility,” Dixon said.
The NWRA officials didn’t speak much on the aquifer, leaving that up to the state engineer’s presentation Tuesday night. But Dixon hinted at concerns by the state engineer’s office over drawing more groundwater out of the aquifer in Pahrump Valley than can be replenished in rainfall from the Spring Mountains. Dixon called Pahrump Valley a closed aquifer, without inflow from other hydrologic basins.
Dixon said the typical suburban family household uses about one acre foot of water per year, 326,000 gallons. He said a domestic well owner is allowed to pump up to two acre feet per year by state law. But Dixon added, “it’s a contentious issue out here because of the unknowns about what’s being pumped out of Pahrump in domestic wells. Some people may use a lot more than others. It’s a tough number to get a grasp on.”
The perennial yield into the Pahrump basin is estimated at 12,000 acre feet, but the amount of water use is believed to be twice that amount, Dixon said. He told a member of the audience theoretically the Pahrump basin could run out of water some day.
Arsenic isn’t a big problem in Pahrump, like other communities in northern Nevada, but a bigger concern is nitrates, Dixon said.
“A bigger concern is actually the septic systems, especially the density of septic systems, especially when you have wells in the area, that could be a very big issue,” Dixon said. “I just learned today that before you buy a house and you have a mortgage lender involved, I guess they don’t require a well to be tested. I think that’s kind of crazy. I would never buy a house with a well that hasn’t been tested.”
He suggested well owners get an annual drinking water test of their well, which costs from $100 to $200. They can be sent to the Nevada Division of Health.
One attendee was worried about the quality of a well on property she planned to buy at a short sale, the house had been foreclosed and sat vacant for some time. There is livestock on an adjacent lot.
“As long as there is the potential to use water from that well beneficially the state engineer’s office is not going to come in and say let’s get rid of this well, whether it’s five years or 10 years doesn’t matter,” Dixon said.
Well owners can test the depth of the water in their well, he said, using a device with a tape on a reel that has a metal probe at the end, it beeps when it hits the water level and has a marker showing the depth.
He suggested homeowners turn off all the appliances in their house that draw electricity and turn their well on, to see how much amperage it’s drawing, giving them an indication how their pump is performing.
“If your electric bill is going up and you don’t know, maybe it’s your well, especially if you’re using your well to do a lot of landscape irrigation,” Dixon said.
One comment that drew a lot of interest was Dixon’s remark there is a date their well was constructed on the well, which is their priority date in terms of appropriated water rights. If water has to be managed tightly, the first users have the first priority, he said.
Dixon said well owners if they think their water levels are dropping can call the state engineer’s office, which he said is very cooperative. He said information on water levels, lists of water right holders, points of diversion and other information are readily available in Nevada, by contrast with California where they aren’t disclosed because of privacy issues.
Dixon urged the capping of abandoned wells, for the protection of the aquifer.
“There’s nothing more dangerous than a well that’s not being used and just sitting out there. You’re making the entire community more dangerous, it’s a direct conduit to the aquifer,” he said.
The revised flood zone maps proposed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Pahrump Valley mean some areas could flood, which could infiltrate the wells and the aquifer, Dixon said.
The NWRA is a non-profit professional association whose mission is to provide education, training and network opportunities for people interested in understanding, developing, conserving and protecting Nevada’s water resources.