The committee drawing up a plan to manage the Pahrump groundwater basin Monday voted 6-1 to endorse a plan to restrict future subdividing of residential parcels outside utility service areas to five-acre lots or larger, joining the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission and Nye County Water District board.
The issue goes back to county commissioners again. When it came before them for approval, they adopted a suggestion by Commissioner Frank Carbone on Dec. 17 to let the new Basin 162 Groundwater Management Committee review it. That committee was appointed during a Jan. 21 county commission meeting.
Under the changes to Nye County Code, an application for a parcel map outside the boundaries of a utility service area on land zoned single-family residential, may not be smaller than five gross acres. The proposal also would require the donation of three acre feet of water rights for each additional parcel instead of two acre feet.
Kristian Bentzen, a former construction superintendent and member of the Nye County Republican Party Central Committee who lives in the Desert Utilities service area, cast the sole vote against.
“We are being involved with the planning commission,” Bentzen said. “Are they going to come to us every time they want to approve a project?”
Board member Greg Hafen II, who is also on the RPC, said the groundwater committee wouldn’t handle any planning issues unless they were directly asked. Bentzen said the groundwater committee should concentrate on the over-allocation of water rights.
Nye County Water Board General Manager Darrell Lacy said the state engineer agreed to accept 20,000 acre feet of water as the annual recharge into the Pahrump Basin instead of 12,000 acre feet, but there’s still 62,000 acre feet of water rights on paper. There’s also over 11,000 domestic wells drilled in Pahrump with another 8,500 lots that have a right to drill a well.
“These have the potential to add a lot of wells if they are divided into one and a quarter acre lots,” Lacy said.
A county planning study said there were 29,288 vacant parcels less than 10 acres in Pahrump, 19,353 parcels were less than a half-acre and 5,905 between one and 2.5 acres. Assuming 9,838 of those lots less than a quarter-acre are served by public utilities, the county estimated there are still 19,450 lots that are platted but vacant, that could potentially install a domestic well. Another 822 lots between 10 and 100 acres could potentially be subdivided.
The limit on parcel sizes doesn’t stop someone from requesting smaller lots than five acres in subdivision map agreements, but they have to appear before the RPC, the Nevada Division of Water Resources will also review it, which will involve a discussion of water. Lacy said parcel maps have been a back door way to skirt those regulations.
“What we’re putting forward here is only moving forward. It will have no impact on anybody who has an existing lot and any entitlements they have with that parcel today,” Lacy said.
Pahrump Town Board member Harley Kulkin protested a “one size fits all” fix to the problem, lumping in long-time residents who want to live a retirement dream and parcel up their land with developers wanting a profit carving up lots. He said it would be expensive to buy water rights if someone had 10 acres and wanted to divide it up into four 2.5-acre lots. In the past Kulkin has wanted to divide up his 10-acre parcel in Johnnie for his children.
But RPC Chairman John Keonig urged action on the bill.
“I’d like to get this to the county commissioners, get their approval, so we can start saving acre feet every time someone wants to build,” Koenig said. “Nothing’s happening. We’re kicking the can down the road.”
Committee members were reminded this is just one small step toward bringing the basin more in balance between annual recharge and water demand. Lacy suggested other steps in the work plan, like landscaping.
Board member Walt Kuver said the average water user in Pahrump consumed 260 gallons per day, a figure that could be reduced through conservation. A 2011 landscaping ordinance proposed different measures based on modest, drastic or crisis level changes, he said. It came up after there was a proposal for an artificial lake at Comstock Park. Kuver said the private utility companies have excellent conservation plans.
The question came up how it’s enforced. Lacy said it would primarily affect businesses applying for building permits. Again Bentzen voiced concerns. He endorsed water conservation but said residents are living in a desert and said it would “scare the bejesus out of me” to begin enforcing landscaping restrictions.
Lacy said the dropping water table isn’t uniform across the basin, some areas on the valley floor have seen the groundwater dropping, while other areas, like the alluvial fan, have had springs run artesian again. He said the board could also look at pumping water from undeveloped areas south and east of Pahrump that are in the hydro graphic basin.
There’s also the concept of aquifer recharge and storage. Lacy also suggested more reuse of effluent.
But some of these steps could still result in a four-to-one over allocation of permitted water rights to supply, Lacy said.