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County support for SB 81 rejected

Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman’s attempt to gain formal commission support of the controversial Senate Bill 81 failed at the commissioners meeting Monday.

Commissioner Dan Schinhofen made a motion in favor of support, but it wasn’t seconded, killing a potential letter Wichman had hoped to send to Carson City showing state lawmakers.

Donna Cox said she thought there were ulterior motives for those in support of it, which include large developers.

“I have to look at this as that everyone that is in support is a developer, and why,” Cox said. “They stand to make money in the future. They want to take part of the water rights that people have now because they say they’re over-allocated, but they’re still going to use that, the water is still going to come out of Basin 162.

“It’s going to be used by developers to bring in more people to use more water. More water we may not have… So I feel it will disturb our rural lifestyle and I would like to see us hold this for awhile.”

Senate Bill 81 expands the power of the state’s water authority to govern and manage groundwater shortages in areas suffering from severe drought. The bill was first heard by the Senate Government Affairs committee on Feb. 12, later heard by the Assembly Government Affairs on April 22, but no further action has been taken.

State Water Engineer Jason King has pushed the bill because of Pahrump and other rural areas suffering from extreme drought which the state argues is causing declining groundwater levels in the basin.

Republican state Sen. Pete Goicoechea said the bill is critically important for parts of rural Nevada that have come to largely depend on groundwater.

Former Nye County Water Board member John Bosta aired his displeasure with the bill, at times, angrily going back and forth with Wichman.

“I think this is a very bad bill for two reasons,” Bosta said. “No. 1 is that the state engineer (King) will be able to charge the appropriators, parcel owners, and the well owners a fee to buy back the water rights that have never been perfected. And this is just an open checkbook that we will take and buy back the over-appropriated water that the state engineers created.

“Second thing is, that they have amended one section, they now give the state engineer power over all wells. That gives him control of the domestic wells. Up to this point the state engineer says I have the authority to do such and such with domestic wells, and he does not have that power. The voting on on SB 81 gives him the power over the 11,200 well owners here in this valley.”

However, Commissioner Frank Carbone agreed with Cox and didn’t agree with the bill as it stands.

“There are some things that I have issues with the bill,” Carbone said. “I think that if you get the right people in the room that this bill could probably be reworked to support all the way around, instead of one particular way.

“There are some things in there that I think can be used and could help us, but because of the combination of how things are written in the bill, I just can’t support it.”

Schinhofen admitted there were a few issues he had with the bill, but supported it nonetheless.

“SB 81, when it was first presented just on the face of it, I didn’t like it,” Schinhofen said. “Because I assume, and I think I’m right, in issues of water in this state, there is the state water engineer and God. And it looked like it was just giving him more power.

“There are a couple of items in that bill there that we really need. One of is not declaring a basin critical, but a manage basin. The other, this would give him the ability to not make ag holders dump water on the ground to prove up their water rights… and for that reason I am supporting this bill. Hopefully we can fix some of the other things as we move along from there.”

Land owner and developer Dan Harris urged the commissioners to back Senate Bill 81, and stated the support of a large group of water rights owners.

“Senate Bill 81 gives the state engineer additional tools to manage our over-appropriated basins without having to rely on regulation by priority,” Harris said. “The state engineer has worked with Nye County to find new tools to best manage the available water resources ending up with Senate Bill 81.

“We the undersigned are the majority water rights holders of Pahrump Basin 162, and we urge the Nye County Board of Commissioners to support senate Bill 81.”

Harris presented the commission with a petition signed by a large group of domestic well owners in the area that support the bill.

“We have gathered over 71 percent of the owners of water rights in this basin who support this petition,” he said.

Developer and long-time resident Tim Hafen was also in support of the bill, stating that even the three utility companies were taking cuts in water, not just domestic well owners.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture proclaimed most of Nevada a natural disaster due to a lasting drought. With no end in sight for the drought, officials warned more trouble is heading for ranchers and farmers in western Nevada where irrigation restrictions have been placed.

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