Legislative subcommittee on water recommends limits on new domestic wells

Officials could limit new domestic wells to a half-acre foot annually in severely-appropriated basins and designated critical management areas.

The Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Study Water recommended the change as part of five approved bill draft requests (BDRs) at its final meeting in Carson City on Friday.

Nevada State Engineer Jason King said Pahrump is a severely overappropriated basin, however the definition is not listed in the statute.

The limitation would apply only to new wells and not to currently existing domestic wells or to existing domestic wells that require rehabilitation, refurbishment, or replacement.

The Pahrump Valley has close to 60,000 acre feet of paper water rights and over 11,000 existing domestic wells. The valley also has approximately 20,000 acre feet of recharge.

Nye County Water District Governing Board interim General Manager Oz Wichman said a study conducted by the district’s officials shows that in the next 20 years, 2,000 of the domestic wells in Pahrump could dry up unless the overallocation is reduced and water levels are stabilized.

“Those numbers are based on the premise that the town grows by zero population,” Wichman said.

Additionally, members of the subcommittee recommended restriction of domestic well use during curtailment by priority. Curtailment will apply only to withdrawals from domestic wells for outdoor water use with an excepted allowance for outdoor watering of pets and livestock.

“The fact of the matter is, law as it reads today is that if we have to curtail in a groundwater basin, we do it by priority. It’s a fact by law that a priority of a domestic well is the date the well was completed,” King said.

He added that over 90 percent of domestic wells in the state probably would be “some of the most junior rights” in the basin, if there was a need to curtail.

“Our intent is to do something for the domestic well users that’s not in the law right now. If we have to curtail, they don’t lose indoor water use,” King said.

Hundreds of concerned domestic well owners from across Nevada flocked to Carson City on Friday where they stated their adamant opposition to domestic well metering. Several domestic well owners also came to the Grant Sawyer Building in Las Vegas to see a televised meeting.

Pahrump resident Kenny Bent argued that domestic use has “always” been exempt from the appropriation process.

“In 2007, language was inserted in the statute implying that domestic use is now part of water law and has a priority date. This is an attempt to be applied retroactive, ex post facto and as invalid by both state and federal constitutions,” Bent said.

Gregory Hafen II, general manager of Pahrump Utility Company, Inc. said if all domestic wells in the Pahrump basin use their full 2-acre feet, they would use a 110 percent of the perennial yield, or the amount of water that can be taken from a basin without exceeding the amount of recharge.

“And I think that it’s time that we all come together, as a community, and as a state and work to solve this problem and pointing the fingers. … We all have to take a cut, we all have to do our part to conserve our water,” Hafen said.

The subcommittee will not pursue a draft bill that will require meters on domestic wells.

In addition to the BDRs, members of the subcommittee will work on other measures.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton agreed to introduce a bill that would allow for rainwater collection. Senators Pete Goicoechea and Aaron Ford will introduce a bill related to “adaptive management” plans, and Assemblyman James Oscarson will introduce a bill to allow for a conservation credit system to let water rights holders conserve water without potentially losing their rights.

Howard Watts III, communications specialist for Great Basin Water Network, said the approved BDRs will be drafted and introduced during the 2017 Nevada Legislative session.

“The legislators on this committee will work with different interests to try and tweak the language and get enough support to pass each one, and if not they’ll probably be dropped and not brought up for a vote,” Watts said.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77

The recommendations approved by the Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Study Water during the final meeting on Aug. 26, in Carson City:

1. Expansion of the allowable uses of the existing grant program for water projects to include a cloud seeding program as an allowable use of grant funds.

2. At times of curtailment by priority, curtailment of withdrawals only from domestic wells for outdoor water use with an excepted allowance for outdoor watering of pets and livestock.

3. In severely over-appropriated basins and designated critical management areas, officials may limit withdrawals from new domestic wells to 0.5–acre–feet annually. The limitation is only applicable to new wells and is not applicable to currently existing domestic wells or to existing domestic wells that require rehabilitation, refurbishment, or replacement.

4. Requirement for the claimant of a pre-statutory water right to submit proof of the claim to the office of the state engineer on or before Dec. 31, 2025, regardless of whether an adjudication has been ordered for a water source. If the claimant fails to submit such proof, the claim is deemed to be abandoned.

5. Clarification of management tools that may be approved by the office of the state engineer in a groundwater management plan submitted for a basin designated as a critical management area. The bill also clarifies that an approved groundwater management plan applies to all water users in basin.

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