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Water board priorities: Importation, revenue increases

After funding years of completed or ongoing studies since its creation in 2009, members of the Nye County Water District board were urged to present their priorities as preparation for an action plan.

A proposed tax on water rights was quickly doused with cold water by Greg Hafen II, manager of Pahrump Utilities Inc. and a member of a prominent local development family that created Artesia and Cottonwoods subdivisions.

Newly-appointed board member Greg Dann, who ruffled feathers on the Basin 162 Groundwater Plan Advisory Committee with a proposal to enact a moratorium on building until they finished drafting a groundwater plan for Pahrump, suggested implementing a water rights fee per acre foot. The fee would be used to fund a full-time water district administrative director and an employee out in the field.

“I want to pick up the domestic well owners on that. We’re all for one and one for all,” Dann said.

But suggestions of a fee of $1, $5 or even $10 per acre foot would be astronomical, said Hafen, who sits on the groundwater basin advisory committee.

“I feel the fees collected by the Nye County Water District should include everyone,” Hafen said. But he added it would be equivalent to increasing the fee paid by parcel owners to the water district from $5 to $71.

“My base rate for my customer is $11 per month. I believe if you impose a parcel fee and water rights fee, you’re double taxing,” Hafen said. But he added, “I want to make sure that everyone does end up contributing and it doesn’t get passed on and borne by the utility customers only.”

Hafen said the only place he found a tax on water rights was in California and it was only 5.3 cents per acre foot.

“I’m pretty sure no rancher up in northern Nye County that I know would want taxes or fees added to their water rights to support the majority of that going to Pahrump,” board member Jay Dixon said, who is a hydrologist for Round Mountain Gold in Big Smoky Valley.

Water district general manager Darrell Lacy suggested a special improvement district, where impact fees could be charged for developments contributing to the growth of the community. Lacy also wanted an emphasis on landscaping requirements for new homes in subdivisions.

An increase in the per parcel fee from $5 was supported by different board members. Chairman John MacLaughlin suggested doubling it, though Dann said after talking to utility companies he scratched the idea from his list.

MacLaughlin wanted to develop flood retention basins on the alluvial fan that could regenerate the groundwater through rapid infiltration basins. He also suggested pumping excessive effluent into the RIBs to receive credit for permitted water rights.

An idea that had almost a consensus was updating the 2004 Nye County Water Resources Plan, drawn up by the former county hydrologist the late Tom Buqo back in 2004.

Board member Michael Lach repeated his suggestion to come up with a firmer number on the amount of recharge into the Pahrump Valley. He said State Engineer Jason King showed a good faith effort in increasing his estimate of the perennial yield of the Pahrump Basin from 12,000 acre feet to 20,000 acre feet. The valley has 62,000 acre feet of water rights on paper, the separate groundwater committee is trying to bring the numbers more into balance. Lach said the water district could never buy back enough water rights to make up the difference.

Utility companies claim customers only use 500 gallons of water per day, which would lower the usage if they can incorporate usage by well owners, he said.

Lach also suggested importing water from Trout Canyon. The idea of importing water was also a popular priority among the board.

Talk of importation also led to suggestions by board member James Eason, Tonopah’s town manager, to talk with the Southern Nevada Water Authority about their water right applications in Railroad Valley and their possible pipeline project. Eason said the reason for the creation of the water district was to have standing with the SNWA. He added the longevity of water usage in the Pahrump Valley is based on water importation, like the SNWA is doing, only importing from within Nye County.

Lacy said the Nye County Water District needs to be a wholesale water purveyor in the future, providing water to local utilities as needed. He thinks the committee should start looking at moving water around the Pahrump groundwater basin to areas where it’s needed.

Lach also suggested upping the required donation of water rights to $4 per acre foot per parcel. The county commission recently passed an ordinance increasing the donation for new residential lots from $2 to $3 per acre foot. An acre foot of water costs more than $2,000.

“If 15 years from now, four acre foot per lot is out of line it can be adjusted. But for now, I believe it’s something we should look at to prevent more subdivisions from being made when there are plenty of lots to put houses on,” Lach said.

Nye County Geoscience Manager Levi Kryder suggested an infiltration study on whether leach fields from septic systems recharge water or are just evaporated. The county could construct a leach field for testing purposes and inject water from household use.

Dixon wanted to require companies planning to do hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas to apply for a conditional use permit.

“All I’m trying to do is propose transparency,” Dixon said. “I don’t believe we need to have a technical review, we don’t want to hold them up. It just forces them to keep us in the loop.”

Board member Jim Weeks, from Beatty, thinks the water district should prepare for the transfer of federal land from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to the state of Nevada. Assembly Bill 227, which passed the last session of the Legislature, set up a committee to study the land transfer.

“If you sell land it isn’t any good without water so that’s going to create an additional demand wherever they sell land and probably there would be a lot more land for sale than there is now,” Weeks said.

County commission liaison Frank Carbone suggested board members examine their authorized duties under Nevada Revised Statutes Chapter 542 which created the district in the 2007 Legislature.

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