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District discusses likely water fight

Nye County may be preparing for a legal fight over state legislation currently making its way through Carson City.

Following a March 23 meeting, the Nye County Water District scheduled a budget workshop hearing to discuss increasing allocations for legal services and an increase in the amount charged for parcel fees in its 2015-16 budget.

The board favored an increase of the $20,000 currently budgeted for legal services to get ready for a potential legal battle over water rights and restrictions proposed by the Nevada Division of Natural Resources water engineer.

Board members Michael Lach and Greg Dann suggested an increase to $50,000 to $100,000 for legal services, for possible future litigation which might be connected to proposed Senate Bills 65 and 81, scheduled for a work session on March 25 and 26.

Dann noted that neither the water district or the groundwater management committee – tasked with formulating a plan to avert water restriction by the state water engineer – have done anything to protect domestic well owners’ rights. Instead, he said, a non-municipal organization, the Private Well Owners Cooperative, has initiated legal action to prevent the state water engineer from reducing domestic well use from two-acre feet per year to one-half-acre foot per year. The lawsuit also asks that the state water engineer be prohibited from exercising any control over water rights “appurtenant to their rights in their land.”

Not supported by the board or the public was an increase of the current parcel fee of $5 to $30. Board members Michael Lach and Greg Dann spoke at length against the increase proposed by Chairman John MacLaughlin.

Lach said he would favor an increase if it were tied to a specific project that would benefit taxpayers and protect the water supply. “But I can’t get behind an increase for the sake of an increase,” he said.

Dann also opposed the parcel fee increase and instead suggested the water district initiate a water right tax to help combat an over-appropriation of water rights often cited by the state water engineer as a threat to the Pahrump aquifer.

According to a presentation given by MacLaughlin, the current $5 parcel fee on the district’s 52,300 lots generates $261,608 in revenue for the district. An increase of that fee to $30 would generate $1,569,000 for the district.

MacLaughlin said the additional revenue would pay for two new vehicles and accessories, totaling $57,800; an increase for an administrative assistant to work 40 hours per week, with benefits, raising the budget line item by $13,677.50; an additional geoscience hydrologist position for a total increase of $76,135.68, and a “Tech Incentive” line of $6,000. Vehicle operations expenses are proposed to be raised an additional $10,000 from $3,000 to $13,000. Also proposed is an additional $523,000 for well drilling and monitoring; $100,000 for the groundwater management plan committee; $250,000 for future studies and $3,000 for unforeseen purchased “or not specifically itemized.”

Lach said there was no justification for the parcel fee increase. “We don’t just just take money, put it there, and then find a way to use it,” he said.

No action was taken by the board of the proposed budget. Instead a public budget workshop session will be held on April 27 at 9 a.m., followed by the regular monthly meeting at 1:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the County Commission Chambers, 2100 E. Walt Williams Drive, in Pahrump.

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