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What’s the impact of solar development on water resources?

With developers pushing for commercial solar projects in Pahrump Valley, some are concerned how these projects will affect our water resources.

Nye County Water District Governing Board Chair Helene Williams delved into the numbers and her findings will be a major topic of discussion at the next water board meeting, set for Tuesday, June 13.

There are currently 10 solar projects aiming to build on lands in or adjacent to the Pahrump Valley, all of which would utilize water from Pahrump’s sole-source aquifer, Basin #162. However, Basin #162 is overappropriated by 42,000 acre-feet. According to the Nevada State Engineer’s Office, its perennial yield is 20,000 acre-feet but there are almost 62,000 acre-feet of paper water rights permits issued for the basin.

“The Nevada state engineer has been concerned that Basin #162 could fall into the critical management area,” Willams told the Pahrump Valley Times. “This is an agenda item for discussion, with the backup material to show that the 10 solar projects in Nye/Clark/Inyo counties (Basin #162) could cause additional strain on the basin if they are continued to be allowed to develop as presented to the BLM.”

The 10 solar projects consist of Yellow Pine, Golden Currant, Rough Hat, Cathedral/Larrea Solar and Potosi Mtn. Solar in Clark County; Rough Hat and Cooper Rays in Nye County; Mosey Solar in both Nye and Clark counties; and Sunbaked Solar and Fontera Solar, both in Clark and Inyo counties.

Using data pulled from the Bureau of Land Management, Williams said these 10 projects could collectively use up to 5,000 acre-feet of water annually during the construction phase and then up to 200 acre-feet of water per year once operational. “Five-thousand acre-feet is equivalent to 10,000 homes at 0.5 acre-feet annually,” Williams’ presentation states. “Five thousand acre-feet is equivalent to one-quarter of our 20,000 acre-feet recharge!”

Williams said the point of her agenda item is to host an open discussion on the matter and gather public input, so that water district staff can put together another presentation which would then be given to the Nye County Commission.

A separate agenda item for the water board’s Tuesday meeting also relates to solar development. Sponsored by board secretary Bruce Holden, agenda item No. 11 calls for discussion and deliberation on the possibility of requesting an amendment to Nye County Code that would effectively put an end to much of the commercial solar proposals in overappropriated areas of the county.

“Nye County shall not approve for construction any commercial solar electric project to be located in any water basin within the county where existing water rights exceed 80% of the basin’s perennial yield as estimated by the office of the Nevada State Engineer,” the agenda item description reads. “This requirement may be waived by the Nye County Planning Department if a dedicated water source for construction and operation of the solar facility is obtained from outside any Nevada water basin that is at least partially within Nye County.”

The Nye County Water District Governing Board meeting is set for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 13. The meeting will take place at the Nye County Commissioners’ Chambers, 2100 E. Walt Williams Drive in Pahrump. The meeting will also be videoconferenced in Tonopah at 101 Radar Road and in Beatty at 426 “C” Avenue South.

To view the agenda visit www.NyeCountyNV.gov

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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