Planning restrictions designed to reduce future water usage, like increasing the number of water rights that must be retired when creating parcels and increasing minimum parcel sizes, were passed by the Nye County Water District Board last week.
The recommendations go to the Nye County Commission for approval.
The water board also adopted a suggestion by member James Eason to let Nye County commissioners appoint members of a committee to draft a groundwater management plan, but the water district would provide the research.
After months of discussion, the water board voted to increase the amount of water rights that must be donated for the creation of each parcel from two acre feet to three acre feet. They also voted to require parcels created for single-family residential use to be no smaller than five gross acres. The proposed amendments to the Nye County Code also forbid parceling up any lots smaller than 10 acres if they are outside of a utility service area.
The larger lot sizes and additional water rights were suggested by the state engineer during a presentation in Pahrump in October 2012. Board member Roberta “Midge” Carver said her biggest concern was the planning department getting information to prospective home builders about the water overdraft situation in the Pahrump Basin.
“It says this is where you’re moving, it is a desert and we’re anticipating the things you might do to maintain a water supply that is sufficient to everyone,” Carver said. “I want people to understand there’s not infinite amounts of things.”
Water board general manager Darrell Lacy said lots within utility districts don’t have to abide by the 10-acre minimum size to submit parcel applications because there won’t be any additional domestic wells sunk. But Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada Regional Director Wendy Barnett said there are some lots in her service territory that were designed to be served by a domestic well by Preferred Equities Corporation that are still that way. Barnett said it would be up to the state engineer to approve any additional wells for those lots.
Water board member John MacLaughlin said the Pahrump Regional Planning Commission has been expressing a great concern over water usage in the last six months, they’re getting frustrated waiting on guidelines from the water board. Last month the RPC decided not to grant a waiver allowing lot sizes smaller than 8,000 square feet on plans that were resubmitted by Shadow Mountain Construction for a 16-acre subdivision on East Simkins Road. But Eason said Desert Utilities, which provided a will-serve letter for some of those lots, is regulated by the Nevada Public Utilities Commission so there’s no need for the water board to weigh in on that decision.
Developer Tim Hafen recently objected to the cost of providing water supply impact reports for new projects. The board voted not to enact that requirement. Lacy said when the new groundwater management plan is approved for the Pahrump basin new developments will have to conform to it.
Lacy told the water board, “Quit kicking the can down the road. If we don’t make some tough recommendations for a water plan for this valley, the state engineer is going to move on without us.”
“If you defer development approval to things like the PUC and the bundle of water rights that a utility has, you’re not addressing the problem because remember, given the official perennial yield figures three out of four water rights have no water behind them, they’re hollow and phantom,” said Walt Kuver, a former Nye County consultant. He said if the county doesn’t have a groundwater management plan, the state engineer has the right to regulate water rights by priority under Assembly Bill 419 passed in the last legislative session.
“Everything should be examined whether it’s inside a service district or not. Hotels, great, we absolutely need a hotel here. I would gladly sacrifice 100 domestic wells to have a hotel. It’s an economic necessity. But we can’t just let it run rampant and say oh gee let’s put a lake in next to the hotel. Everything has to be examined including how much water it will use,” Kuver said. “What we want to do is build broad awareness of water. If I was king I’d shut down that stupid fountaion on (Highway) 160.”
RPC Chairman John Koenig said when water concerns come up on his agenda he calls somebody from the water board.
“Direction from the water board toward my whole board would be appreciated. I guess inside or outside the water district there’s a big pool of water down there, they pull their water from the same place I pull my water from,” Koenig said. “If they keep pulling too much my well is going to go dry. I don’t want that to happen. I want direction when that’s applicable.”
Lacy suggested the groundwater management committee be no more than seven members, to avoid being too unwieldy and include numerous stakeholders, like water rights holders and utility companies. He also recommended the charter authorize the committee to serve a short time frame of perhaps one year to issue recommendations. The water board could be consulted, but Lacy said the Nevada Division of Water Resources is getting impatient to see the board set up.
County Commissioner Frank Carbone said the state engineer and State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, the author of AB 419, would also like to have input in the plan. He said it would be used as a model for other parts of Nevada where groundwater basins are overallocated for water rights.
“The outcomes of this group will have to be approved at the county commission level. We don’t have the authority to do it,” Lacy said.
using anywhere near their entitlement of 1,800 gallons per day, but instead use 500 or 800 gallons, he said.