Developer Tim Hafen had an urgent request Monday for the newly-formed committee drafting a groundwater management plan for the Pahrump Valley: “Don’t use the M word.”
The “M” stands for moratorium, as in building moratorium.
The committee is trying to address the imbalance in Pahrump between perennial yield into the basin and water use. Pahrump Valley has more than 60,000 acre feet of water rights and a recharge estimated at 12,000 to 20,000 acre feet.
The work plan for the Basin 162 Groundwater Management Plan Advisory Committee, which was appointed in January, included suggestions for a temporary moratorium on all new development that requires constructing new wells until a water plan is in effect and conditions improve. The work plan, which included suggestions from board members Gregory Dann and Walt Kuver, also recommended investigating sources of capital for importing water and limiting the Pahrump population to 50,000 until an alternative water source can be secured and a valleywide public water system operational.
The work plan also suggested verifying all permitted and certificated wells for annual beneficial use and requiring totalizing meters showing usage at the well head. The committee is also studying water rights that may be on paper but not in active use, including buying back or retiring unused water rights or using them for future, alternative water sources. The plan suggests revising state law to prevent circumventing regulations which require water right holders to show beneficial use of the water every five years or forfeit the water rights.
Phase two of the work plan, to be implemented after two years of the enactment of the groundwater basin management plan, includes hiring an administrative water manager for the basin and a field water enforcement officer, to be paid out of property taxes, sales taxes or a tax on water rights.
“Be very careful about putting moratoriums on. Once you put moratoriums on, you stop growth,” Hafen said. He said it would also affect existing Pahrump property owners. “When you put a moratorium on there, you put growth into an economic tailspin. You think your house went through distress, you’ll see that again.”
Hafen is president of Pahrump Utility Company Inc., which built infrastructure during the housing boom and currently only uses 7.5 percent of its water capacity and 18 percent of its sewer capacity. He unsuccessfully sought to interest the county in taking over the company. Major developments pay standby fees to use water in the future.
Hafen said some artesian wells have re-emerged on the alluvial fan. He was also optimistic the state engineer revised his calculation of the annual recharge into the Pahrump basin from 12,000 acre feet to 20,000 acre feet.
“Don’t use the M word. If there’s 20,000 acre feet of perennial yield and if there’s 13,000 acre feet being pumped, you got space to work on this and have some time without using the moratorium word,” Hafen said.
Board member Walt Kuver, a former county renewable energy consultant who has warned before about a lack of water, wanted the committee to focus more on high density, residential subdivisions rather than impose a moratorium.
“We have time, it’s not a crisis,” Kuver said.
Kuver said addressing the grandfathered status of existing well owners was on his list of items for the 2015 Nevada Legislature. He also suggested increasing the $5 per parcel fee that partly funds the Nye County water District.
“Five dollars per year is a trivial amount to protect the valley water supply,” Kuver said.
Board member Greg Hafen II, who is Tim Hafen’s grandson and manager of Pahrump Utility Company Inc., said rather than limiting the population, the committee should look at trigger points at which importing water may be required.
But Darrell Lacy, general manager of the Nye County Water District, said a study by water board consultant Oz Wichman, that was released in February 2013, estimated the cost of such a pipeline at $172 million. That study suggested importing water 70 miles from Crater Flat southeast of Beatty near the Sterling gold mine, which could supply 5,000 acre feet annually. When amortized over 40 years among 30,000 people it would amount to a fee of $12.15 per month.
Lacy said that’s a project for the next 20 to 30 years, but added importing water from anywhere is not easy. He said the figures were, “probably not something that’s totally out of range.”
“Effectively the population has already been limited. We don’t have any more water. We’re using all of it with perennial yield right now,” board member Dave Caudle said. A candidate for District 5 county commissioner, he added,”I don’t see why the county commission hasn’t decided there won’t be any more high density housing until we get this resolved.”
That led Greg Hafen II to ask, “could you clarify we don’t have any more water?”
Kuver said the county has already been working with the Nevada Division of Water Resources to resolve the over-allocation of water rights on paper that may not be used, or in his words, “how do we dissolve these crazy water rights?”
Lacy said committee members could get involved in another overlapping advisory committee finalizing revisions to the Pahrump master plan, which meets Thursday afternoon. Caudle felt that committee could put anything in the master plan they wanted to address the issues.
Wendy Barnett, regional director of Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada, said the more the groundwater basin committee can do the work between the various groups the better. She suggested a workshop to sit down and hammer out the plan.
While many board members were skeptical of a moratorium, audience member Dwight Lilly supported the idea.
“A moratorium is not only a reasonable way to approach it but a responsible way to approach it,” Lilly said. “We can’t just keep kicking the ball down the road.”
Lilly said when he moved to Pahrump he was told there was enough water for 250,000 people.