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New domestic wells could require water rights in Pahrump basin

Pahrump basin property owners looking to add access to water by building a new domestic well might have an extra roadblock to deal with.

Nevada State Engineer Jason King issued an order Tuesday stating that it’s now required to obtain an existing “water right to drill new domestic wells in the Pahrump Artesian Basin,” a news release from the Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources stated.

The order does not apply to the rehabilitation or redrilling of existing domestic wells, the release stated.

According to the release, the order will help protect the owners of existing water rights in the area, along with existing domestic wells in the Pahrump Basin. The area has the highest concentration of domestic wells in the state with approximately 11,280 existing wells, the engineer’s office reported.

The order was a direct reaction to a letter sent to the state engineer by Oz Wichman, general manager of the Nye County Water District, following the Dec. 11 approval of the Nye County Water District Governing Board in a 5-2 vote in favor of the action.

At that meeting, Wichman presented data to the board showing the Pahrump Basin was overallocated in water rights, and the area was set to see major water deficits in the coming years, especially if there was little control put on new domestic well construction, he said.

The letter to the state engineer focused on four main themes, including the construction of new domestic wells: attrition, which involves cancellations and forfeitures; over-dedication of water rights; and water conservation.

During the Dec. 11 meeting, Wichman said that the current line of domestic wells in the basin, along with existing water rights and the potential addition of 8,500 more domestic wells on undeveloped land, the valley could be committed to about 63,000 acre-feet of water use annually.

That number far exceeds the perennial yield of 20,000 acre-feet of annual allowance Wichman said was available in the basin.

There is enough deeded land in Pahrump to bring well over the 80,000 residents the area can support, according to Wichman.

“Somewhere along the line, you have to draw a line in the sand and get away from adding to the commitment to the water rights in this basin,” he said at the meeting.

The state engineer’s office’s estimate was slightly lower on the number of undeveloped parcels it used to make its determination in the order, which was set at 8,000.

Those parcel owners, prior to the directive, had the legal right to take up to 2 acre-feet of water annually from domestic wells, according to the state’s engineering office.

That would equate to 16,000 acre-feet of water being taken out of the basin annually with the new parcels alone.

“By requiring water rights for new domestic wells, order #1293 helps protect the continued supply of groundwater within the basin, including for existing domestic wells,” the state’s engineering office said in a news release.

Extra costs

Debra Strickland of Strickland Construction in Pahrump said the new order’s intent will push up costs quite a bit for clients she currently represents in drilling domestic wells in the area.

Strickland estimated that it would cost an additional $10,000 on top of the average $4,200 fee already imposed on those looking to drill a domestic well. That’s because of the water rights on 2 acre-feet of annual use that parties now must purchase in order to drill.

With the new order, some empty parcels would require obtaining water rights on the property, where they weren’t before the order. However, some of those 8,500 lots may already have those rights dedicated to them, Nye County Planning Director Darrell Lacy said at the Dec. 11 meeting.

“We have engaged in trying to ferret those out,” Wichman said during the meeting.

What Wichman is trying to break down is if some of the existing parcels already have water rights relinquished to them as being part of a domestic well subdivision.

There are two classes of wells. One of those is a property owner looking to drill, up to 2 acre-feet annually, on a property.

Some properties could belong to a domestic well subdivision, in which case water rights would have already been dedicated to support all the parcels in that area.

Strickland said this decision could cost her north of $60,000 in economic loss, if parties seeking to drill a domestic well decide not to go ahead, in light of the order.

Strickland has about 15 domestic wells on order, which she estimates will cost an extra $150,000 in total for all these parties seeking to drill.

But she did add that her estimate was based on prices for water rights today.

“Demand is going to drive the price …,” she said.

During the Dec. 11 meeting in public comment, former Water District Governing Board member Michael Lach, and a realtor in Nye County, argued that there may not be enough available water rights for the roughly 8,500 undeveloped parcels. He was going on the basis of only counting ag water rights, which he believed to be the only available rights not connected with something already.

With that calculation, and on that basis, about 3,500 people would not be able to use their property.

Wichman maintains that there are other sources for the owners of undeveloped parcels to obtain water rights.

Contact reporter Jeffrey Meehan at jmeehan@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

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