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Water board approves 600% parcel fee spike, Nye commissioner acting to halt increase

In a highly controversial move, on Monday, Dec. 9 the Nye County Water District Governing Board voted unanimously to raise its per parcel fee for roughly 50,000 Pahrump parcels from $5 to $35 per year per property, for a minimum of three years, an increase of 600% per year.

The goal? To fund a pricey multi-million dollar exploration project to determine if there is deep carbonate aquifer water that can be captured so as to allow for the continuation of development in the valley.

However, if Nye County Commissioner Debra Strickland has her way, the increase will never go into effect.

She told the Pahrump Valley Times on Wednesday, Dec. 11 that the news had her “fit to be tied” and she had already initiated the process to have the parcel fee increase brought before the Nye County Commission, which has the power to overturn, within 30 days, any decision made by the water board.

Strickland confirmed later the same day that the item is included on the agenda for the commission’s next meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17 at the Nye County Commissioners’ Chambers, 2100 E. Walt Williams Drive.

The deep carbonate aquifer exploration project was estimated by principal hydrologist Dwight Smith, of Interflow Hydrology, Inc., to cost around $4.1 million total. The goal of the project would be to identify whether there is an alternate source of water available in the carbonate aquifer and if so, to confirm developable yields and whether the water quality is suitable for a municipal supply.

The project would take place in phases, to include geophysical surveys, exploratory drills, test wells and aquifer tests, as well as groundwater flow model updates. An area of interest has already been identified, with the target location at the base of the Trout Canyon watershed, not in Nye County, but in Clark County. This has led to questions of whether Las Vegas would attempt a “water grab” for any water that might be found through the project.

The $4.1 million estimate is only for the exploration and does not include funding for infrastructure to actually move any water that may be found from the Trout Canyon area to the valley. Nye County Water District General Manager Oz Wichman explained that a previous estimate of the cost of that infrastructure, drafted by Shaw Engineering in 2017, came to $45 million. Just who would build and control that infrastructure is an unknown factor, however.

That cost may be something the water district looks at in the future, although Wichman said it was possible that developers wishing to create new subdivisions could be directed by the Nye County Commission to bear the financial burden of building that infrastructure in order to provide water to their development. This is a piece of the puzzle that would have to be figured out at a later date, if the project does go forward and proves to be fruitful.

Knowing the controversial nature of a parcel fee increase and anticipating public push-back against such action, the increase was not the first option the water district turned to for funding the project. However, all other options that were broached, including grants and loans, were determined to be unattainable, leaving the board with no other funding mechanism but a parcel fee increase.

“Today, if you own the land, you own the water rights and you can navigate what’s on the books under county code under subdividing, we’ll continue to subdivide and make more lots,” Wichman told the water board during the Dec. 9 meeting. “At the end of the day, the carbonate exploration project would allow us to say, ‘Fine. If you want to do a development agreement and make 6,000 lots, 6,000 more homes, there is the well field. Go develop the well-field over there.’”

Wichman also noted that this was not a new idea, stating that it is something that has been kicked around for several years now and it falls under the “redistribution of pumping” section of the Pahrump Groundwater Management Plan.

He later added that he was unsure if the project could move forward even if the water board voted in favor, remarking, “I’m not confident that we have the political will to take on such a project. That is to say, the BoCC (board of county commissioners) can overturn a decision by this board in 30 days… I sit here before you today under the opinion that the BoCC does not have the political will to pursue such a project. I could very well be wrong.”

Those interested in listening to the entire discussion by the water board can view the meeting by visiting www.nyecounty.net and clicking on the “Meeting Center” link. The media for the Dec. 9 meeting is located toward the bottom of the page under the Water District Governing Board section.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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