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Water District resolution language amended to seal loophole

In an effort to seal a loophole in a Nye County Water District resolution dealing with the relinquishment of water rights, members of Nye County Water District Governing Board made a change in the verbiage of the document that had been adopted several months ago.

After board member Greg Dann had directed staff to bring the resolution for discussion in late July, officials sparred over the term “consumptive use” as some argued that it could preclude the goal of diminishing water rights.

Dann acknowledged that reducing the current 60,000 acre-feet of water rights would be hard on industrial and commercial growth in the county, but said the term could give people an out of the resolution.

“You look up the word consumptive and you start to see flaws in the whole scenario,” he said. “In other words, there are some projects that can come to the table that are going to need a whole bunch of water. With the inclusion of consumptive use in the verbiage on the resolution, there is a distinct possibility, there won’t be any relinquishment of water (rights) and that’s wrong. … It’s weak and it keeps it subjective.”

According to the resolution, applicants for any new commercial or industrial projects developed in the Pahrump Groundwater Basin shall submit a conservation plan that reflects the best management practices for landscaping and low-impact development. They also must have a water rights mitigation plan for relinquishing to the Nevada Division of Water Resources two acre-feet annually of valid water rights for every acre foot of planned use. This conservation and mitigation plan shall be evaluated as part of a project’s approval process.

“I just would like to see a strong message being sent out there to (state water engineer) Jason King, to all the groups that we are serious in Pahrump and in Nye County reducing the water rights number,” Dann said. “We are over-allocated, we all know that we have to get that 60,000 acre-feet lower. And I believe that it needs to be equitable, it needs to be fair to all people who come to the table.”

While the resolution doesn’t define the term “consumptive use,” the Southern Nevada Water Authority website states that consumptive use is the water that is consumed and not returned to the water environment. It’s the portion of water that evaporates, is used in products or crops or is consumed by people or livestock, according to the information provided on the website.

Still, a resolution is only a statement of intent by the board to bring changes to the county law and ordinances concerning water rights, Nye County Department of Planning Director Darrell Lacy said.

“So, if someone wants to use, build a business or a home, they essentially have to for acre-foot of water they want to use, they have to buy three and relinquish two to the basin,” he said. “It’s an attempt to address this 60,000 (water rights).”

The decision wasn’t popular with some residents, as they said state law doesn’t have a concrete definition of “consumptive use” either.

“I feel that adopting a resolution is simply a waste of time, public’s time and staff’s time in developing resolution that can’t be enforced,” resident John Bosta said. “It’s also a waste of the public tax dollar.”

After taking the term “consumptive use” out of the resolution, officials said they will pass the document to the county commissioners so that they can begin readying an ordinance based on the recommendation made by Nye County Water District Governing Board.

“We are trying to make the growth pay for itself,” Lacy said. “It’s not very politically popular to go and say, ‘We are taking a part of what you have or we are going to make you pay money to buy somebody else’s.’ It’s called the art of the doable. I guess, it’s part of the politics. What can we get done to fix our problem and that’s fixing part of it.”

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