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Town of Pahrump could fund legal action against Nevada engineer’s order

The Nye County Commission narrowly approved calling for a special meeting where the board could decide to obtain outside legal counsel over an order restricting domestic well construction in the Pahrump Valley during a Tuesday meeting.

The Nye County Commission plans to sit as the governing board of the unincorporated town of Pahrump on Wednesday and decide whether to fund an attorney to fight Nevada State Engineer Jason King’s order on domestic wells. The board voted 3-2 on Jan. 2 during a meeting to schedule the special meeting.

“I think it would be in the best interest of the citizens of Pahrump to go ahead and do this, to find some way to put on hold or block the ruling of the state water engineer,” said Nye County Commissioner Butch Borasky in his introduction of the agenda item. “It’s going to have a detrimental effect to the people in this community and not just a few, many. That’s why I put it on the agenda.”

During public comment, many local citizens reported potential loss of property values, added costs and other issues with the new order that requires owners of parcels without relinquished water rights to obtain existing water rights in the Pahrump Artesian Basin before drilling a domestic well.

State engineer’s order

King’s order does not apply to the existing 11,280 domestic wells that are in need of repair or replacement.

Prior to the order, property owners that were not able to connect to a utility could build a domestic well and pump up to two acre-feet of water annually without a water right.

Property owners now required to obtain water rights will spend an estimated $10,000 extra for their purchase, according to a report in the Dec. 22 Pahrump Valley Times. That’s on top of the estimated $4,200 that it costs to drill a well currently.

The action by King was taken after the Nye County Water District Governing Board sent a letter to King asking him to send the order. That was decided during a Dec. 11 meeting in a 5-2 vote to approve Oz Wichman, general manager of the Nye County Water District, mail the letter.

Much of the reasoning revolved around the Water District Governing Board’s estimates on overallocation of water rights in the Pahrump Basin. According to estimates given at the Dec. 11 meeting, the Basin has more than 60,000 acre-feet in annual water rights on the books, where the valley has a perennial yield of 20,000 acre-feet of annual use available.

According to information in the order, 400 wells were projected to fail by 2035 and over 3, 000 could fail by 2065.

Some came up with alternative ideas for the commissioners and possible ways to reduce water use.

Former Water District Governing Board member Michael Lach spoke during public comment about the potential alternatives that could have been taken, instead of calling for an order. Lach, and others, suggested the use of conservation wells, which offers citizens more of an option, rather than having to obtain water rights.

“If they want to conserve, and use only a half acre-foot, they can sign a sheet of paper and they can choose to do so, because they want to be a part of a community that’s in a desert that might need to conserve water,” he said.

Funding source

Action was on the table to potentially fund an outside attorney with county monies during Tuesday’s meeting but Nye County commissioners opposed the move, as the county’s funds are for the whole county and the order only applied to Pahrump.

After deliberation, it was decided to still seek outside counsel but with Pahrump funding.

Other options were put on the table as well by Nye County Commissioner Donna Cox.

Cox asked Nye County District Attorney Angela Bello if the board could direct her to put in for a temporary restraining order.

Bello replied that her office typically uses water counsel, as the area is specialized. The board could still direct her to put in the order, and she could do that. However, that action would have to be done in another meeting, Bello added.

Those not opposed

Though many Pahrump citizens spoke out during the meeting against the state engineer’s order, not everyone sees funding legal counsel through a government source as a good plan.

“The bottom line is this order protects 11,000 current domestic well owners,” said Nye County Commission Chairman Dan Schinhofen. “With that in mind, those are my constituents.”

Schinhofen added that he’d received several communications from people planning to get a lawyer and sue; therefore, he didn’t see the point in the town funding legal counsel of its own.

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

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