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Committee demands data on water levels

The Nye County groundwater committee continues to move forward with crafting a priority list of water conservation methods, though they question the detailing of a plan.

Committee member Christian Benson raised the issue after a staff presentation suggesting the adoption of a water model. That model would be used as a guide in decision making. Staff said that though there were two models available, neither was “perfect.”

Benson said that he was not aware that models were available, and presumed information provided to the committee were study results.

“We are trying to control any potential water problems that we may or may not have,” he said. Benson said that committee work so far has, in part, focused on restricting future growth, by the use of “A whole bunch of numbers that we can make sense of.”

Following the meeting, Nye County Geoscience and Acting Natural Resource Manager Levi Kryder explained that there exists a “significant body of work” concerning water level data in the Pahrump Valley. Data collection from 76 wells in Pahrump, as well as others in Amargosa, Oasis and Stewart valleys has been ongoing since 1999.

That data, he said, can be used to assess not only ‘static’ water levels, but also to look at changes in water levels over a period of years. The results of the data collection have shown that valley floor well water levels are “generally declining,” whereas, well water levels on the alluvial fan are increasing.

Available, Kryder said, are two different water models for the Pahrump Valley. One is compiled by Lise Comartin and maintained by the Desert Research Institute and a second is a more general administrative model compiled by Glorieta Geoscience.

The Comartin model, he said, is problematic in that in its current form it can not be used as a water management tool.

In June 2014, Nye County spent $1,550 on software to run the Glorieta Geoscience model, but has not yet done so.

Once a water model is settled upon, Oz Wichman, consultant to the Nye County Water District, said maintenance of the model and access to the information must be decided upon. One option, Wichman said, was for the model to be placed under the control of the Nevada State Water Engineer’s office, since that office is charged with administering water rights in the state. He said that since the water district has the software, that office could act as a liaison to the water engineer’s office, under that ownership scenario. “You need to keep them (water engineer’s office) happy,” he said. If the county were to maintain ownership of the model, they should make sure they have both funding and staff to maintain the model, he said.

Nye County has self-imposed the creation of a groundwater management plan, Wichman said, following the passage of Assembly Bill 419, in 2011. That bill, approved by the governor in June 2011, allows the state water engineer to approve a groundwater management plan in a basin that has been designated as a “critical management area.” The bill also provides the methodology needed in order for a basin to be removed from that designation.

However, Jo Ann Kittrell, Public Information Manager at the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources said in an email Tuesday that the Pahrump Basin has never been officially designated as a critical management area.

Kittrell further clarified that the Pahrump Basin is “of primary concern.” The State Water Engineer’s Office, she said, has been working with water users in the basin since the passage of the legislation in 2011. King addressed Pahrump residents in February 2014, telling them if a groundwater managment plan was not adopted, a “critical” management area designation was likely.

The State Water Engineer, Jason King, has proposed Senate Bill 81, scheduled for a hearing today, that if passed, would reclassify all “critical” management areas to “active” management areas. Once re-designated, the proposed bill says, the State Water Engineer would be given absolute power to: limit irrigated areas and the movement of water rights; impose or authorize conservation practices that might otherwise result in forfeiture of water rights; the number of extensions of time for filing proofs of completion of construction and application of water to beneficial use; to designate preferred uses of existing rights, to assess fees to establish a fund to retire water rights and any other action the state engineer deems necessary.

King said that he has worked with Pahrump basin stakeholders to address other areas of permissive use such as regulation of priority water rights which would limit both the drilling of new domestic wells and the quantity of water that could be pumped from existing wells.

While there exists no requirement that Nye County form a groundwater management plan, Wichman said that doing so will allow the county to “have a say in its own future.”

Committee member Greg Dann advocated for the adoption of a water model as a priority in the creation of a groundwater management plan, saying, “It all goes back to the science. We can’t make a decision without knowledge. How can we make decisions without knowing what the water is doing?”

Benson voiced his concerns of government overreach. “We are trying to circumvent a problem that we may or may not have,” he said.

In an effort to bring the Pahrump Basin into balance and to address the over-allocated water rights, the state water engineer has recommended that Nye County: address domestic well “issues”; retire existing unused water rights; address the interconnectedness of systems and consolidation of utilities; address distribution of production wells; increase dedications for parceling and subdivisions; enact an ordinance requiring xeriscaping; import water from other basins; develop water in other parts of the valley and use a groundwater flow model as a planning tool for future development.

The groundwater management committee has formulated a list which targets many of the recommendations. In addition, the committee is considering the adoption of a conversation plan which incorporates an education component; metering of new domestic wells; the creation of incentives for the connection to public utility systems; water “banking” measures; plans for growth control which include re-examination of future development agreements; the construction of rapid infiltration and water detention basins and the expansion of utility infrastructure, to be included in a future plan.

There is a “huge educational disconnect” concerning water use self-monitoring for small businesses, according to Dann. Dann has offered static level well testing to the public, free of charge, to help collect data for use as a water management tool.

Further discussed was the metering of new domestic wells and limiting water consumption to one-half acre foot from the current permissible use of two-acre feet, on future metered wells. The reduction would translate into a reduction of 1,800-permissible gallons of water per day to 450-permissible gallons per day.

The recommendation was met with outcry from committee members and the public alike. Amargosa resident and Private Well Owners Cooperative member John Bosta objected to the measure stating that percolating water is the property of the land owner, and any action concerning that percolating (underground) water was akin to “a taking” of real property. And, he said, “You have no authority to do that.”

Bosta advised the committee that he, and others, had filed an “injunction” against the state water engineer. He chastised the committee for continuing to act “with arrogance” in their discussion of the implementation of a groundwater management plan.

Bosta’s paperwork reveals a request to the Nye County District Court seeking an order prohibiting the state water engineer from exercising his delegated authority. Bosta’s application will appear on the March 17 District Court calendar for consideration. A temporary injunction has not been ordered. One point at issue is State Engineer Jason King’s June 30, 2014 statement in a letter addressed to the Private Well Owners Cooperative that if curtailment from domestic wells is necessary “withdrawals including, without limitation, withdrawals from domestic wells, be restricted to conform to priority rights.” King further states in the letter that “regulation by priority is the last step our office wants to take, but unless all stakeholders participate and compromise, the GMP (groundwater management plan) has no chance of succeeding and our office could be left with no other alternative.”

A presentation on the water modeling system used by Glorieta Geoscience will be given at an upcoming joint meeting of the groundwater management committee and the Nye County Water District on Feb. 23 at 9 a.m. at the County Commission Chambers located at 2100 E. Walt Williams Drive.Pahrump.

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