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Water board expresses concerns on proposed lake

The Nye County Water Board expressed concern over plans for a three-acre lake proposed along with a 213-space recreational vehicle park planned off Leslie Road.

Board members Monday asked for the project’s consultants to provide better estimates of actual water usage with a donation of three acre feet of water for every acre foot for the water they will use.

Dave Richards, president of CivilWise Services, said he wanted the county to decide whether this was a good project before the company spends $200,000 on engineering and design. He said if the RV park isn’t approved the owners of the 55-acre property could begin growing alfalfa to use up their 125 acre feet of water rights, which would use more water than the 17-acre RV park and accompanying commercial developments.

They could also build 55 homes, which would each be allowed two acre feet of water.

“All we’re asking for is an acknowledgement that this is not an abuse of water and water rights and that we have shown concern about reducing that and have the potential for reducing the paper water rights,” Richards said.

CivilWise Services estimates the RV park would use 23.86 acre feet of water per year, another 29 acre feet would be lost through evaporation at the artificial lake. American Eagle RV Resorts also proposes to build a 154,000-square-foot Alzheimer’s facility and a 67,000-square-foot senior center along with a retail center on the remainder of the property. A relinquishment of water rights at a three-to-one acre ratio would mean developers would have to have 71.58 acre feet of water rights just for the RV park of which they would use 23.86 acre feet and give the rest to the state engineer’s office, 87 acre feet would be needed for the artificial lake and 165.3 acre feet for the commercial park.

Nye County Planning Director Darrell Lacy said that if totally built out, the 55-acre development would be larger than Pahrump Valley Junction Shopping Center which has Albertson’s Supermarket and the adjacent Walmart shopping center on a combined 30 acres. The RV park is in a part of town planning department staff thought was ill-suited for commercial development, he said.

“The retail and senior housing is still very ill defined at this time other than some sketches on a conceptual site plan,” Lacy said.

Figures from CivilWise Services state the average RV park resident spends $74 per day on non-park related expenses. The consultants estimate the development will create 250 permanent, full-time jobs.

“It’s really the bottom line: how does the community attract revenue?” Richards asked. “The only way you’re going to do it is by attracting people from outside the area. We know by our resources an RV park can’t just be an RV park sitting in the middle of the desert.”

During their first look at the plan, Nye County Commissioners sent the application back for more information.

Lacy said there would be some precedent in requiring a 3-to-1 donation of water rights: the proposed BrightSource Energy solar plant on the Tecopa Road, and the Spring Mountain Motor Sports Ranch six-acre artificial lake. He said the race track owners developed a catchment basin for flood waters, tore up turf, use recycled water for a car wash and other conservation measures.

“They put their money into it up front knowing it was going to be a major project, they would have to get approvals for it,” Lacy said.

Board member Michael Lach didn’t buy their threat to farm the 55 acres. He said there’s 14,000 acre feet of water rights in Pahrump Valley designated for agriculture use.

“The majority of the people are not going to turn around and start using that as agricultural, it’s just not cost effective,” Lach said.

“Any deviation from the current zoning master plan would to me be an obvious mismanagement at this point,” board member Greg Dann said, the only one to vote against the motion. “The water table’s dropping. Until that slows down and starts to come up or stabilize I can’t in good conscience go forward with any kind of a positive outlook on this project.”

Richards said they will use 70 acre feet if the project is totally built out, the developers are willing to relinquish the remainder of the 125 acre feet back to the state. American Eagle plans to build a package water and sewer plant, though Lacy said the Public Utilities Commission frowns on new small utilities. Richards said it would cost $20,000 just to talk to Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada, the nearest public utility, about annexation. In the worst-case scenario, he said the developers could receive service from another utility company.

County consultant Walt Kuver said a report from the Nevada Division of Water Resources showed the average pumping in Pahrump Valley over a five-year period from 2009 through 2014 was 14,400 acre feet per year and water levels continue to decline on 85 percent of the domestic wells.

“The number of domestic wells surrounding the property is over 2,000. What’s the impact of local drilling to support what amounts to a doubling of the domestic wells in that section alone?” Kuver asked. “Use this as an open example of the serious issue of over-allocated water rights being put to use when there is no actual water to support that.”

But board member James Eason, the Tonopah town manager, said they have to stay consistent with what the county commission did in the past. Without guidelines or a groundwater basin study, they can either accept their mitigation efforts or do a moratorium on approving projects, he said.

Lach warned if the county doesn’t get the Pahrump groundwater basin in line with the perennial yield, developers may have to relinquish more than three acre feet in the future.

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