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Water officials discuss many paths to saving water

The Nye County Water District Governing Board heard water conservation recommendations from the Basin 162 Groundwater Management Plan Advisory Committee at a meeting of the district board on Monday.

A list of 11 non-prioritized target areas were identified earlier this month by the advisory committee to be further studied for inclusion in a future groundwater management plan.

Speaking on behalf of the advisory committee, Chairman Gregory Hafen presented the water district board with various items which, if implemented, he said, will help to preserve water.

Discussed was a voluntary water “banking” recommendation under which two-acre feet of water would be relinquished for every one-acre foot used. Relinquished certificated or permitted water rights would help to reduce further over-allocation of water rights and also help to control pumpage inventory.

District board member Michael Lach opined that banking water seems to be a good idea. However, he questioned its feasibility given the lack of enforcement of beneficial use requirements.

County consultant Oz Wichman, who said he was “personally conflicted” by the concept, explained that once extra water rights were relinquished, what remained in use would be an accurate reflection of actual “wet water.” Current numbers of existing water rights, he said, do not accurately represent available water resources.

Wichman admitted, “This concept would eliminate proving which is a cornerstone of Nevada water law.” So is speculation.

Amargosa Valley town council member John Bosta opposed the idea and alleged implementation of the concept would result in a violation of Nevada’s anti-speculation laws; which, he claims, the state engineer has been doing since 1982 by water banking for utility companies who have not applied or filed for beneficial use of the water, which is required by state law.

Resident Ken Bent said that water banking would allow public water to be “owned” by a private class of individuals. The premise gave rise to further outcry from Bosta who claimed the state engineer could not legally appropriate water. Percolating (underground) water belongs to the land owner because it can not be differentiated from the soil, and, he said, the property owner owns the soil.

District board member Greg Dann rejected the idea of banking water claiming that it circumvents both the law and beneficial use mandates. Selective enforcement of water regulations by the state engineer’s office are unbalanced and unfair to residents and businesses. While beneficial use of thousands of acre-feet of water rights is not policed by the state, other users, such as the Catholic church and Moose Lodge, are being cited for negligible overages in consumption, he said.

Further discussed was the struggle to be faced with implementation of such a strategy. Wichman was directed by the district board to continue his efforts to involve the state water engineer’s office to help the county to formalize a conservation plan.

The district also discussed the creation of incentives to voluntarily connect to public water systems wherein the utility company would waive connection fees and pay for limited extension lines. The option would target areas where basin water levels are falling and also have a high density of domestic wells.

The hotly debated topic of including meters for new domestic wells was also proposed by the advisory committee. Metering would provide tangible data for making decisions about water consumption, according to Wichman. Wichman told district board members that the state engineer believes that he already has the authority to require meters on any newly drilled well. The requirement to have meters on new domestic wells will be placed on the agenda at the next water district board meeting.

Water district board chairman John MacLaughlin urged the planning department to investigate how many existing domestic wells are being utilized for commercial purposes. Those users, Lacy said, should be buying additional water rights. State law also requires metering of converted use wells.

Wichman urged the county to utilize enforcement services of the state water engineer’s office for that type of “domestic well abuse.” Public education of metering wells for commercial purposes is lacking. MacLaughlin instead wants residents to have the opportunity for compliance through education before intervention of enforcement services. State officials are authorized to levy a $10,000 daily fine for violations of the law, MacLaughlin said.

Also debated was the acquisition of five-to- 10-acre tax sale parcels for the “benefit of the basin.” Though some district board members approved of the measure as an effective way to reduce future domestic well use, other members questioned whether the district should be in the “land owning business.”

Lach said he saw the measure as a method of “reverse parceling” which would reduce the amount of water coming out of the basin in the future. Approximately 21 properties on this year’s tax sale list would fit within the county’s parameters for acquisition, Lacy said.

Resident Ken Searles spoke out against the move, claiming it was “tantamount to eminent domain.” No action was taken on the proposal. The matter will be further discussed at a future meeting.

Lacy reported that the county has the ability to take further water conservation measures through special use and conditional permits. Through changes in parcel and subdivision codes, he said, the county could “make things more stringent than the state minimum.” It was suggested that district water board members review titles 15, 16 and 17 of the Nye County Code, which can also be used to address future development.

Board members advocated for public attendance and input, at the next meeting of the Nye County Water District Governing Board scheduled for Feb. 23 at 9 am. The meeting will be held at the Nye County Board of County Commissioners Chambers, located at 2100 E. Walt Williams Drive in Pahrump.

A joint workshop between the water district board and the groundwater management plan advisory committee is proposed to follow the meeting.

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