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COMMUNITY VIEWPOINT: Ideas for the new water board to consider

The Board of County Commissioners is poised to appoint a new Water Advisory Board to write a Pahrump Basin (Basin 162) water management plan to submit to the state engineer.

The current Nye County Water Board kicked this politically hot potato back to the commission because they didn’t think anyone outside the Valley should be making those decisions. I happen to agree with that viewpoint.

However, the makeup of this advisory board and the proposals they make will directly impact how much water, if any, you are allowed to draw from your domestic well. That amount will immediately influence the value of your property. Without sufficient water to irrigate your fruit trees and landscaping, your land, despite all your hard work and expense, will revert to barren desert.

Wendy Barnett, regional director of Utilities Inc., suggested at a November BoCC meeting that people should conserve by only putting in native plants. I understand that Utilities Inc. has been pumping water out on the ground for no beneficial use whatsoever.

I know I am going to get crucified by some for the suggestion I make in this letter, even by many of my friends, but someone must take the hard view. Now for my suggestions:

1. Place a five-year moratorium on all new building in the Pahrump Basin, immediately.

2. Place a five-year moratorium on the drilling of all new wells, except those necessary to replace a malfunctioning domestic or utility well. Add, as a part of the permitting process, the requirement that the malfunctioning well must be plugged by the well driller immediately after drilling the new well. Also add the requirement that the actual water depth for this new well be reported to the advisory water board for recording and tracking by the placement of a water level indicator on the well.

3. Rescind all building permits issued prior to 2008. Any project on which construction has not commenced should be considered as abandoned and further development of that property has to be reconsidered.

4. Limit the utilities expansion to customers currently served. No new connections for five years.

5. Change the current requirements for minimum lot size to five acres. No high density housing. There is no water available for high density housing.

6. Declare any water right in Basin 162 that has not been developed for beneficial use in the last five years as forfeited and must be returned to the State Engineer.

7. Any well that has not provided beneficial use for the last five years must be declared abandoned and capped.

8. Any agricultural water right issued by the State Engineer to support the defense effort during World War II should be rescinded by the State Engineer and declared null and void. The war has been over for almost seventy years and very little agriculture is still being done in the Basin.

9. Ask the well owners all over the valley to allow placement of water depth indicators, not usage meters but an instrument that will actually tell us something, at strategic locations to verify actual replenishment of the ground water. The meters currently being placed on wells only indicate the water drawn but tells nothing about the replenishment rate.

Commissioner Schinhofen and others advocated for progress and future development of the Pahrump Valley. But when a new project is proposed Commissioner Carbone correctly asks “Where are we going to get the water” and he’s right. That is the very first question that should be asked prior to any other discussion. Currently water rights for the valley are over-allocated by many millions of gallons. It’s time for the BoCC to say stop, no more, and come up with a solution.

A good solution is drastically limiting growth. Boulder City successfully did it and their property values soared. People that want to move into our quaint little community won’t really mind paying more for the quiet, rural lifestyle they are seeking.

No, I’m not against growth per se. I’m just against the course we’re currently on. If the figures are true, we have already surpassed the growth potential of this valley in terms of available water. If the estimated figures are not true and have nothing to do with the possible reality of copious amounts of replenishment then it’s a manufactured problem where none actually exists.

The five-year moratorium will allow the ground water to be replenished. It will also give the BoCC, the Water Board, the community, all well owners and above all the State Engineer accurate information with which to make these vital decisions. In the past, realtors, developers and speculators in the valley and elsewhere have benefited from unconstrained growth and indiscriminate division of large tracts of land. Now the new homeowners may be penalized by having their water limited or taken away.

Some have suggested that meters could be placed on all wells and the well owners be charged for usage over a set amount. Well, where does that extra water come from? Do those charges magically make more water appear? Don’t think so.

It does do three things though: It’s a way to take money out of the well owners’ pockets and put it In the county’s. A tax by any other name is still a tax. Second, it creates a new bureaucracy to administer this monstrosity. Then the other thing it does automatically make more water available, at least on paper, to the utilities that hold purchased water rights. There’s really no more water but it could appear that way.

Can the BoCC legally do all this? I don’t know, but there has to be a way. That way can be found by this new board as long as it’s made up of people that are willing to apply themselves, do the research and make the hard decisions for the benefit of the valley residents and not for purely financial reasons. Individuals that are solely focused on water rights may not be the best choice for this board.

My suggestions at the November BoCC meeting were aimed at giving the domestic well owners and homeowners and not the developers and utilities the say over what happens here.

UICN is a multinational corporation and could care less about the individuals in the valley as long as their investment is successful. Pahrump Utilities Company owned by the Hafen family is entirely different. The owners live here and any decisions made will affect them on a personal level as well as a business level.

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