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Caution urged on next step for water panel

TONOPAH — Developer Michael Lach urged Nye County commissioners Tuesday to do it right when setting up an advisory committee to draw up a Pahrump groundwater basin water management plan and not panic over comments by the state engineer.

State Engineer Jason King in a workshop at the Bob Ruud Community Center in October 2012 said his office has the right to allocate water rights by priority date for water basins designated as critical management areas for 10 years under Assembly Bill 419 passed in the last session of the Nevada Legislature.

Any groundwater basin water management plan would come up with a solution to prevent such a designation.

A couple of commissioners felt it should be the water district’s duty to draft a plan.

“I’m just confused why the water board didn’t do it themselves,” Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said. “They can develop resolutions, bring them forward and we can adopt them; it could’ve all been handled in one place.”

Water district general manager Darrell Lacy said many of the issues would involve land use planning, with ordinances that would have to be approved by the county commission. He said the water district would still like to be part of the process, sit at the table and take the lead in providing the science.

Commission Chairman Butch Borasky wanted an aggressive schedule to draw up the plan, to prevent Pahrump Valley from being designated a critical management area. Lacy said he expects the advisory committee to wrap up business in a year and a half to two years. Commissioner Frank Carbone said he anticipates creating some milestones for the committee to meet.

The state engineer said the perennial yield for Pahrump Valley is 12,000 acre feet of water, a figure Schinhofen thinks is too conservative, and should be closer to 19,000 acre feet or more. There are 62,500 acre feet of water rights permitted in Pahrump Valley, not including 11,100 domestic wells, the state engineer estimates there could be 20,000 domestic wells once 8,500 undeveloped lots are built out.

“We’re going to have to pull up our boot straps, we or whatever, and come up with solutions that are going to satisfy the state engineer and hopefully he’ll work along with us by retiring some of these water rights that are just laying around doing nothing that are creating a bigger challenge for us,” Borasky said.

Carbone said this will be a first for the state engineer’s office; a Pahrump groundwater basin management plan would be seen as a model for other problem areas in the state. The state engineer talked about including area stakeholders. Lacy said he suggested a water board member, a county department head, the town of Pahrump, utility companies, well owners and businesses.

Commissioners agreed the panel should be kept to about seven members, with a county commissioner, a representative of the state engineer’s office and State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, the area senator and author of AB 419, serving as liaisons. Commissioner Lorinda Wichman said if three Pahrump utility companies have representatives that would leave four more appointments.

“There’s a lot of liability. I think it’s really, really important we get this right when we start doing it because it’s not just the utility company you want at that table because they’re going to have a completely different interest in how this is dealt with than the person who has paid for their parcel and it’s an acre and a quarter out on the west side of Pahrump. If they’re being told they can’t drill a well, that’s a big thing if you tell someone their property is worthless,” Lach said. “It’s going to be more lawsuits than Pahrump would even know what to do with. I don’t think the sky is falling like everybody is saying.”

For example, Lach said individual residents may be using only 250 or 300 gallons per day of water, less than the state estimates. Domestic well owners are allowed 1,800 gallons per day.

“There’s very logical ways to think this out and I think it needs to be approached that way. We need to get away from the sky is falling and start working our way to the numbers we really know and how do we deal with this,” Lach said.

“Solutions must be incorporated into what they’re doing,” Wichman said.

After a conversation with water board member James Eason, the Tonopah town manager, Wichman said she understood why a separate advisory board was being created and not the water district board. Wichman wanted advisory board members to be just from the Pahrump basin. She also wanted representatives from utility companies with authority, adding, “you don’t want some flunky in here who can’t make decisions.”

Wichman said neither the water board, nor the county commission, has funds to hire a third-party mediator.

In a related matter, the commission voted to seek another round of applicants to replace at-large representative Lee White, who is retiring from the Nye County water board. Carbone said he knew of someone who wanted to apply but wasn’t in the list of applicants for consideration Tuesday.

Borasky said there were complaints by some applicants who felt left out the last time appointments came up to the water district board.

During the last discussion about a water board position, the applicants included Lach; Amargosa Valley Town Board member John Bosta; another Amargosa Valley resident with experience in the ranching industry Phillip Miller; paralegal and legislative liaison Michelle Hinds; former Pahrump Town Board member Charlotte LeVar and her husband former Las Vegas Valley Water District employee Dan LeVar.

Wichman said in the past the county human resources director would vet the applicants and submit a recommendation to the county commission based on the qualifications. Nye County Administrative Assistant Lorina Dillinger said that policy has been changed, it’s now up to the Board of County Commissioners and the county commission’s liaison to that board to make a recommendation.

There may be two other appointments needed for the seven member board.

Borasky wanted an item at the next commission meeting to consider an interim appointment to replace Pahrump representative Tim McCall who is in poor health. Carbone said board chairman Roberta “Midge” Carver is thinking of resigning by the end of the year.

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