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Pahrump parcel fee hike overturned by Nye commissioners

Many Pahrump area property owners have been angry these past few weeks about a future hike in the per parcel fee assessed on their property taxes. And owners haven’t been shy about expressing their frustrations either.

The source of that disquiet, however, is now at an end.

At a formal appeal hearing held Tuesday, Jan. 14, the Nye County Commission voted 4-0 to overturn the Nye County Water District Governing Board’s decision to raise the per parcel fee on Pahrump properties from $5 to $35 per year, for a minimum of three years.

The commission’s action had meeting attendees cheering and clapping in appreciation, but the question of how to go about managing Pahrump’s water issues still remains. As such, John Koenig, commission chairman, said he would be bringing forward items in the coming months that pertain to water, also noting that public workshops to discuss the issue were something the county would be looking into as well.

The turbulence over the water fee spike began immediately after the water board’s Dec. 9, 2019 meeting, where the board members voted unanimously to increase the fee in order to fund an exploratory project. That project’s goal is to determine if there is water in the deep carbonate aquifer of Pahrump’s Basin #162 that could be captured and used to support future development.

There was a wide range of reasons as to why members of the public were pushing back against the action and the entity that formally requested an appeal of the increase, the Private Well Owners Cooperative, which delineated 10 specific reasons it believed that increase should be overturned.

Cooperative representative Helene Williams took the lead in reading out those reasons, which included the organization’s objection to the project’s location in Clark County, the lack of assurance that water would be found, the cooperative’s expectation of future phases and more. In closing, Williams declared, “It’s time for the Nevada State Engineer’s Office to step up to the plate and stop the over-allocation of water and use their statement of, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it.’”

It was a comment several others echoed, including Nye County Commissioner Leo Blundo.

“I believe we need to call for beneficial use,” Blundo stated. “We need every stakeholder to come to the table… You’ve got paper water rights, I can’t drink this. It really leads me to believe, this has nothing to do with water, it’s all about money. And that’s why we’ve got to call for beneficial use.”

However, calling for proof of beneficial use was an action that professional engineer Robert Coache of Hydrotech Consulting Services LLC, who is also a former Nevada deputy state engineer, did not agree with.

Coache made an appearance at the Jan. 14 meeting, at the invitation of Nye County Commissioner Debra Strickland, to provide the commission and public with his take on the situation.

To give an example, for comparison, Coache spoke about a deep carbonate aquifer project conducted in Coyote Springs, stating that project was an “unmitigated disaster” that resulted in drawdowns across the entire water system. However, he did state that he believed hydrologic investigations should be conducted in Pahrump and recommended that inter-basin transfers to import additional water be considered.

On proof of beneficial use, Coache stated, “It’s thrown around a lot about calling for beneficial use. I want to caution against that. I’m not a fan of that… When you do call for beneficial use, you’re all in, you’re calling for everybody’s… I think a more prudent step is, you want to look at projects that aren’t facilitating things. They aren’t showing due diligence in their projects, they haven’t shown things going forward in their projects, they are just holding on to the water, aka, speculation.”

Following public comment on the appeal, Strickland made the motion to reverse the water board’s decision, citing three specific reasons listed by the well owners’ cooperative as her evidence and findings.

Strickland cited the project’s location outside of Nye County, followed by two unanswered questions that she believed were enough to overturn the decision. The first question pertained to the stakeholders and who would have claim to any water captured from the deep carbonate aquifer. The second revolved around the uncertainty of who would control the water, if any was found.

Before the motion came to a vote, Nye County Commissioner Donna Cox reiterated her belief that the water board should be abolished all together. Blundo also added some of his thoughts on the overall water issue in the valley.

“We have a water problem in this community,” Blundo emphasized. “I hope everyone, and I’ve stated this in the past, we need to come together and find a solution to this issue once and for all. I promise you, it is my belief… if we ever get to the point where the state has to come down here and manage this situation, it will be a hack and slash job and we are all going to pay and suffer for it at the end of the day. It’s a solution we as a community need to come together and find.”

In conclusion, Koenig stated, “I’ve heard some good ideas today and you will see some agenda items that I’m going to sponsor for the board to go to the state engineer to do something… to get this board to do certain things. The workshop will probably happen with the water board and we are not sure where we want to go with that yet.”

The motion to overturn the increase passed 4-0 with commissioner Lorinda Wichman absent.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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