Valley pioneers, developers hold senior water rights

When State Engineer Jason King warned in October 2012 he may have to allocate water rights by priority date after 10 years, if Pahrump Valley is designated a critical management area, he shook up the local development community and well owners, too.

He briefed a crowd at the Bob Ruud Community Center on Assembly Bill 419, passed in the 2011 session of the Nevada Legislature, designed to address the over-allocation of water rights in basins like Pahrump Valley and Diamond Valley near Eureka.

A successful groundwater management plan will attempt to bring the Pahrump Valley aquifer into balance, where there are water rights issued for 62,500 acre feet, not including another 11,100 domestic wells. Annual recharge was initially estimated at 12,000 acre feet but has since been raised to 20,000 acre feet, which is more in line with a definitive study on the Pahrump water supply in 1984.

At the time King estimated the most senior 50 water right holders out of 850 permittees would use up that 12,000 acre feet. Nevada water law prescribes a “first in time, first in right” doctrine, allocating water to the first people to file for the water rights.

A hydrographic abstract from the Nevada Division of Water Resources shows the people holding the most senior permitted, certificated water rights still valid in Pahrump Valley are the pioneers who settled it and some major developers.

A water supply appraisal by Glorieta Geoscience, released in 2013, said Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada owned 23,603 acre feet of water rights in Pahrump Valley, but only used 3,625 acre feet that year.

Glorieta Geoscience reported that community water systems together have 30,050 acre feet of water rights and serve 13,695 residents. Of the 63,350 acre feet of water rights, 37,112 are permitted and 18,375 are certificated. The great majority, 38,130 acre feet, are for municipal or quasi-municipal use.

The first name on the hydrographic abstract of permitted and certificated water rights is Calvin Murton Bowman, with 318.71 acre feet of water rights, filed on Oct. 26, 1940. He is part of the family of Elmer Bowman, who settled in Pahrump in the early 1950s. He bought the Manse Ranch.

The second and third permits were issued to another member of the Bowman family, Imogene Anderson, whose application dates back to August 1946. Digger and Imogene Anderson donated land for Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church on Gamebird Road back in 1979.

Harry Ford, the founder of the Pahrump Valley Museum, who first moved to Pahrump in 1944, still has five acre feet of water rights under his name; he died in May 2011.

Another 318.5 acre feet of water rights are owned by Howard and James Ashworth.

A limited liability company named A-SWDE1, LLC, has another LLC named LEHM LLC as principal partner, the principal partner in LEHM LLC is John Ritter, founder of Focus Property Group. It owns 271.7 acre feet of water rights that were filed on Dec. 31, 1951. Focus Property Group outlined plans in 2006 to build 5,800 homes on the south end of Pahrump. The company still has a valid development agreement with Nye County. LEHM LLC is also listed as a partner in B-PVL1, LLC, a company with 2,679.43 acre feet of certificated, permitted water rights that were originally filed in 1975.

Another sizable chunk of the 12,000 acre feet of perennial yield that would replenish the Pahrump aquifer, would be taken up by CM PV Land 1-545 LLC, which has 1,333.5 acre feet of water rights filed on Dec. 31, 1951 and another 177.44 acre feet that were first filed on July 28, 1952. The principal in the company is the CM Group, the principal in the CM Group is James Barton of Las Vegas.

Adaven Management, which originally outlined plans to build 5,160 lots at Mountain Falls South subdivision, south of Manse Road during the housing boom, has plenty of water rights to go with any future development. Adaven has 349.9 acre feet of water rights filed on May 15, 1952, another 4,495 acre feet dating back to July 18, 1960, another 397 acre feet from April 8, 1963 and 1,193.89 acre feet from Aug. 25, 1965.

The next permittees are Betty Avera, with 147.28 acre feet filed on Aug. 11, 1952 and Leonard Bietz, with 100 acre feet filed on March 30, 1953. Alvin L. Bells is next in line with 505 acre feet filed on Jan. 20, 1959.

Central Nevada Utilities Company, which was taken over by Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada, is still listed as the owner of 30.95 acre feet of water rights, filed on June 30, 1960, another 100.5 acre feet on Aug. 28, 1962, another 54.06 acre feet on March 23, 1964 and a few smaller amounts.

The Christensen Trust has 189 acre feet of permitted, certificated water rights on record. They were filed on July 18, 1960. Edgar Lyle Christensen died in 2011. He moved to Pahrump in 1948 and married Mary Bowman. He bought 264 acres of the Manse Ranch in 1961 and began farming.

Roy E. and Phyllis J. Archer have 325 acre feet of water rights filed on Jan. 13, 1961. They are followed in order by the Batdorf Trust, with 33.85 acre feet.

American Eagle RV and Resorts LLC, which outlined a controversial plan to build a 213-space recreational vehicle park at 500 S. Leslie St. before the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission recently, has 125 acre feet of water rights, which were filed on March 14, 1962.

Another development company, Bermuda and Star LLC and Bermuda Road Investments LLC, has 156.85 acre feet from July 5, 1967. Eloy and Mary Baca own 140 acre feet, first filed Aug. 25, 1967. Bolling Construction has 205.65 acre feet on file, with a filing date of Nov. 7, 1968.

The town of Pahrump has its first commercial water rights of 97.41 acre feet and 14.98 acre feet filed on Sept. 4, 1969.

Kent “Tim” Hafen, has 5.92 acre feet in his name filed Jan. 31, 1972. But his grandson, Greg Hafen II, the manager of Pahrump Utilities Inc., said Adaven has a lot of the water rights they owned.

UICN doesn’t show up on the list until June 15, 1979, with 800 acre feet in its name. The company has another 13,881 acre feet filed in a span of two years in 1982-83. UICN has hundreds more acre feet of water rights on the list dating back to filings mostly in the later 1980s.

Among other names on the list, Ray “The Flagman” Mielzynski owns 25 acre feet of water rights filed on Jan. 22, 1992, so does Nye County Water District member Greg Dann; his were originally filed Nov. 5, 1992. Fred Cressler, who farms land on South Homestead Road just north of the Chicken Ranch Brothel, has 52.2 acre feet of irrigation water rights first filed May 22, 1992.

Some of the same early residents are listed in a hydrographic abstract of all water right holders, the first one being Lois Kellogg in a filing that dates to July 18, 1939, followed by Tim Hafen Ranches on March 1, 1940. Central Nevada Utilities Company has three filings from April 10, 1940, followed by Calvin Murton Bowman on Oct. 26, 1940 and Linford and Imogene Anderson, Edgar Lyle Christensen, Perry and Norma Bowman and Roland Wiley. That list includes canceled and abrogated water rights.

Greg Hafen II said since the state engineer revised his perennial yield estimate to 20,000 acre feet, he hasn’t said what that cutoff year would be. But though developers and utility companies may own a lot of acre feet of water rights that aren’t currently being pumped, he said that doesn’t mean they can be canceled.

“Everybody that’s bought a lot in Artesia we have an obligation to provide them with water, same thing with other subdivisions in our service territory,” Hafen said. “So we file extensions of time on our water rights, we do show due diligence and make sure that we are following the law.”

Nye County Planning Director Darrell Lacy concurred.

“Once it’s dedicated to a subdivision it’s under different regulations than a farmer who’s holding it for beneficial use,” Lacy said.

The Basin 162 Groundwater Management Plan Advisory Committee, which is drawing up a groundwater management plan for Pahrump Valley, is attempting to deal with the number of water rights permitted with what is used.

“The question with UICN is not how much water they hold, but how much water they need,” Lacy said. “They’re only pumping 3,000 acre feet today but that doesn’t mean that water isn’t dedicated or needed for future use.”

At a listening session held by the state engineer in Tonopah Aug. 7, former Deputy State Engineer Bob Coache said the state engineer lacked authority to call for a blanket proof of beneficial use of water rights, in an attempt to whittle down the unused water rights to a level closer to the perennial yield. That was suggested as an alternative to regulating ground water withdrawals by priority date during the state engineer’s October 2012 presentation.