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Water district accomplishments touted

Does the county’s water district board have a reason to continue?

Some residents have lately asked the question, but water district General Manager Darrell Lacy read off a list of accomplishments Monday since the governing board’s first meeting in March 2009.

Much of the work has been science projects, now the board should look at making plans, he said. The board members, at the suggestion of Michael Lach, will present five choices for issues to be pursued in the future.

The Nye County Water District began with mostly grant funding under a $300,000 Congressional Groundwater Evaluation Grant, which paid for a Pahrump Valley groundwater flow model by the University of Nevada, Reno and Desert Research Institute. In another study, the water district worked with the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection on a community source water protection plan, also known as a wellhead protection plan that looked at potential sources of contamination, Lacy said.

A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation grant was used for a water supply investigation. The water district was also involved in the Pahrump fairgrounds well project and the proposed acquisition of Pahrump Utilities Company. A pilot study on nitrate contamination is now ongoing. The water district sank 16 wells for water level monitoring in Pahrump, Amargosa Valley and Oasis Valley, Lacy said. There is an ongoing study on evaporation rates in Amargosa Valley, he said.

“For people to say this group hasn’t done anything they need to go back and look at the history here,” Lacy said. “We are trying to get the basis for better scientific decisions in the future.”

A $5 per parcel fee was later imposed to fund the district. County Manager Pam Webster said Monday the water district should take in $279,693 this year, exceeding estimates by $7,000, with $146,124 in expenditures and another $70,000 in encumbrances remaining. She said the water district will have a comfortable $440,000 fund balance going into the next fiscal year July 1.

Also taking place at this week’s district meeting, an agreement was renewed with water consultant Oz Wichman, the husband of county commissioner Lorinda Wichman, for $48 per hour, an average of 80 hours per month, with a cap of 100 hours in a 30-day period. Wichman’s contract, including hourly pay, travel and expenses, is not to exceed $60,000 annually. Wichman’s scope of work includes preparing policy documents, bids, filing documents for grants, maintaining budgets and records. Lacy said Wichman’s compensation remains the same as this year.

Another water committee appointed in January, drafting a water management plan for Pahrump Valley, will have to present the plan to the water board, as well as county commissioners and the Nevada Division of Water Resources, Lacy said. But County Commissioner Frank Carbone criticized the speed the Basin 162 Groundwater Management Plan Advisory Committee was moving to draft a plan that would avoid listing Pahrump Valley as a critical management area for water.

“They’re getting off on a very, very slow start. There has been some communication with the state engineer and his team, they’re concerned they’re not making any headway as well,” Carbone said.

Water board member John Bosta resumed his attack on the water district voluntary well monitoring program, which has only attracted eight volunteers, including two county employees, a county commissioner, a person with two rental properties from California and another person who died. Consultant Walt Kuver said the water district has collected useful information, factoring out vacancy periods, which showed an average of just over a half acre foot per year of average water use by well owners. Senior Deputy District Attorney Marla Zlotek issued an opinion at Bosta’s request, that the water board has the authority to run the voluntary well monitoring program.

Water board chairman Donna Lamm said she will meet with a representative from the superintendent of curriculum at the Nye County School District and Judy Gilmore from Utilities Inc. of Central Nevada about her pet project, starting water conservation education in the schools.

The water district was too late to submit comments on a discharge permit approved by NDEP for Liberty Processing, which wants to start a leaching operation to recover gold in Amargosa Valley. But the water district staff was ordered to monitor other discharge permits.

Looking to the future, Lacy suggested a work plan that includes looking at managed pumping, effluent reuse and aquifer reuse and recovery. He said the perennial yield of water into Pahrump Valley could be increased with 3,000 to 7,000 acre feet of effluent reuse and infiltration. By importing 5,000 acre feet of water, Lacy said the Pahrump Valley could support up to 150,000 people.

“Water rights and future population growth are something we all agree needs to be addressed,” Lacy said. One of the bigger problems in the Pahrump Basin is the over-dedication of water for parcel and subdivision maps, he said, asking if it was achievable to reduce the number of master planned future lots by two thirds.

“There’s no way we have enough water to build out to the master plan that we currently have in this basin,” Lacy said. “We need to determine what is the appropriate per capita usage and what are the achievable population targets we can get to.”

The board may want to look at paper water rights that are not being used, Lacy said. He asked if they want to buy up and bank water rights, but said that can be expensive.

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