Water board’s authority questioned

Nye County Water Board member John Bosta Monday questioned the board’s authority in voluntary metering of domestic wells and monitoring stream flows after flooding in Trout Canyon last summer.

But the board did vote on sending comments about hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” by oil companies to the Nevada Division of Minerals and fine-tuned the conditions on which General Manager Darrell Lacy would protest water right applications.

Bosta, a recent appointee who is also on the Amargosa Valley Town Board, said the water board wasn’t created to object to plans by the Southern Nevada Water Authority. He said the law that created the board in the 2007 Legislature limited it to building water and sewer lines and water projects.

The Nye County Water District was created by Senate Bill 222 passed by the Nevada Legislature in 2007 with the power to acquire, store, sell and distribute water. The district board has the ability to incur debt, issue bonds, acquire land and water rights, authorize construction projects to import or distribute water, levy and collect taxes. The board was first appointed in February 2009.

“What water projects have we developed?” Bosta asked.

Yet when it came to matters like the proposed purchase of Pahrump Utility Company Inc. in 2012, the water board reviewed the matter but Bosta claimed they passed the buck onto county commissioners to make the decision.

The board has the right to enter into contracts, but they only have contracts with water rights attorney George Benesch and consultant Oscar “Oz” Wichman, he said.

The water district considered a tentative fiscal year 2014-15 budget. The $5 parcel fee levied on 57,133 parcels will raise $285,665, when an allowance of 5 percent for noncollectable accounts is written in, it leaves $271,382 in anticipated revenue. That can be added to a projected beginning fund balance of $448,539 for $720,871 in revenues.

Operations costs of $199,882 include $153,165 in staff costs and $20,000 in legal service/water protests. There’s another $50,000 for water level management, $11,500 for water metering and $10,000 for conservation. Another $417,954 is available for short term programs, including $100,000 for water rights purchases.

“Isn’t that supposed to be for water systems we’re not operating?” Bosta asked.

Paprocki said the per parcel assessment is for operations of the district. But board member James Eason suggested a review of their programs.

The water board has been trying to get more well owners to voluntarily agree to metering, to get a gauge on overall water use in Pahrump, outside of areas served by utility companies, they only have eight metered wells. Bosta thought that was outside their jurisdiction.

“The attitude we have in this valley people who have domestic wells say hands off our domestic wells,” Bosta said “Putting meters on domestic wells I just feel we’re sticking our nose in somebody’s business.”

Board member Michael Lach said the idea is to get better data on basin-wide usage.

“If we don’t give you any data you’re going to be guessing,” Lach told state engineer Jason King in the audience.

King told Lach his recent estimate of 20,000 acre feet of recharge into Pahrump Basin included 8,000 acre feet that run off into the dry lake bed in California, that could be captured with a groundwater management plan.

Bosta thought the installation of stream gauges in Trout Canyon, after flooding that closed Highway 160 last summer, was a public works job.

The fracking comments were one of the few items the board passed. The board asked to be consulted on any plans and for oil companies to follow all regulations the county puts in place.

Board member Jay Dixon, a hydrologist for Round Mountain Gold Corporation, said current regulations don’t ensure proper protection of groundwater. He said proposed regulations by the state would increase the cost of oil and gas construction, requiring additional pipeline casing and significant increases in the cost of performance testing, both critical to protect the groundwater. Dixon said there’s also costs for groundwater characterization before and after fracking and flow back water.

“These regulations do add significant costs to this program and it might be very difficult for small operators to operate under these requirements,” Dixon said.

Bosta asked about the risk of earthquakes.

“I heard stories when you start fracking perhaps it can induce additional earthquake activity but I think the jury is still out on that,” King said. The ability to drill horizontally has really opened up the oil industry, he said, but the state is worried about how much water is used as well as possible pollution to the aquifer.

When Bosta asked if he supported it, King said, “My limited knowledge of fracking, I think it can work in Nevada.”

Lacy wanted more guidance on his authority to protest water rights applications. He said the water board might decide the application is in a water basin designated as a critical management area, the amount of water requested, how long the water was put to beneficial use and whether it was an arm’s length property transaction.

Lacy pointed to a recent application to the Nevada Division of Water Resources by Bermuda and Star LLC for a 160-acre piece of land on the north side of Winery Road. Unfortunately the protest period already passed, he said.

“The one issue I might have with this, there’s not a subdivision map that has been submitted for these parcels of land as of yet,” Lacy said. “These are over 500 acre feet of water rights being used for a 160-acre parcel that’s zoned VR-20 so you’re looking at a maximum of 320 homes.”

Lacy said the water board can also comment on water applications without protesting. The state engineer said they will read a letter of concern and consider the county’s objections.

“It may be worth protesting just so you can understand what is the purpose and extent of this transfer,” Lacy said. A formal protest could be expensive if the county has to hire legal representation for a protest hearing, he said.

Bosta pushed the board to intervene in the Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada 2014 integrated resource plan before the Public Utilities Commission. The county has a April 2 deadline, which may require a special water board meeting.

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