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Water board approves loan for rural system

TONOPAH — Shoshone Estates Water Company Inc. will receive a five-year, no-interest loan for $11,000 but not a requested grant from the Nye County Water District Monday to draw up a preliminary engineering report on how to combat high arsenic levels.

A cooperative took over the water system for Shoshone Estates RV Park in Carvers in January, water board member Jay Dixon told the board. The system has 80 active connections, a handful are commercial, he said. It has two wells, a water tank and distribution system and four active quasi-municipal water rights permits.

Dixon said the system has been out of compliance with tougher Safe Drinking Water Act standards for arsenic for 13 years. The maximum contaminant level allowed by law is 10 parts per billion, the Shoshone Estates system has been producing water in excess of 25 ppb.

“The system is on the top five of troubled systems in Nevada for non-compliance,” Dixon said.

Water board members were caught between a need for Nye County to show action to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the precedent of granting money to a private entity. Dixon said the system has been subject to non-compliance orders from EPA.

Dixon said the Shoshone Estates co-op elected a board, raised the rates 35 percent for residential customers and 56 percent for commercial customers. The co-op raises monthly revenues of about $5,000, he said. Shoshone Estates applied for a $100,000 loan but was denied.

The preliminary engineering report would identify options, with the preferred choice a point of source reverse osmosis system for each customer, Dixon said.The alternative would be a very costly municipal treatment system, he said.

Dixon said Round Mountain Gold Company agreed to match the county’s contribution. Dixon is employed as a senior hydrologist for Round Mountain Gold.

“This won’t work unless there’s 100 percent buy-in. That’s the risk here, every connection has to buy in from here,” Dixon told the board. “This is rural Nevada. It’s ranching, mining, but most of all it’s people helping people and that’s one of the greatest things about living in rural Nevada.”

Nye County Water Board Manager Darrell Lacy said the former owner of Shoshone Estates RV Park approached the county about taking the system over, but the county declined.

“They went ahead with setting up a co-op to operate this system, however we knew for many years it was non-compliant and they had deadlines they had to meet. We are well past the point of finding out if anything is going to happen,” Lacy said.

Lacy said the water district needs to show the EPA and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection a good faith effort and a solution to the problem.

But he added, “this group is typically not a funding source for these situations.”

“We felt like this was a small enough bite we could help out at this time to move this process forward. We’ve kind of run out of options at this point in time,” Lacy said.

Nye County Water Board consultant Oz Wichman said the RO units will cost $500 to $600 to install in the homes.

But Dixon said, “To put in a treatment system, a dedicated treatment system for this supply before it goes into each point of entry would be significantly more expensive.”

Water board member Jim Weeks from Beatty first raised a concern.

“If we’re going to give grants I feel in the best interest of the water district we should set up protocol that every entity that comes before us has to meet. We should be the grant agency of last resort, not first resort,” Weeks said.

Board member Michael Lach said a five-year loan at zero percent interest would cost $28 per year per user of the system.

“When the next person comes to us and says we need $15,000, we need this, I think everyone is a little concerned about the rabbit hole we’re going down,” said Lach, who has development interests in Pahrump and Tonopah.

Consultants from Day Engineering, who would get the contract, weren’t at the meeting.

Water board chairman John MacLaughlin, from Pahrump, said, “it is time sensitive and this will show not only NDEP but the U.S. EPA that there is some movement going on trying to stop them from coming in with a big hammer and saying ‘OK you guys haven’t done anything we will do this’ and then “‘OK now you’re on the hook for $7 million for this centralized system and we will take it out of your taxes.’”

Board member Greg Dann from Pahrump made the motion to give Shoshone Estates the money inserting language it’s a loan under the terms discussed.

Wichman said if the co-op has to raise the fees to pay back the loan they have to revisit the rates again. He said Day Engineering would complete the report in less than six months, the largest hurdle will be tracking down property owners.

Roberta “Midge” Carver, a former water board chairman, said she was a resident of Shoshone Estates and agreed 100 percent with the board decision.

Former water board member John Bosta, from Amargosa Valley, questioned the authority of the board to take the action. He complained the board didn’t ask for public comment before making the decision.

“We do have other contingencies and money in the budget and we will forward your comments,” Lach said.

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