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COMMUNITY VIEWPOINT: Trying to understand the “water crisis”

I’ve lived in Pahrump for almost 20 years. I hope to be living here another 20 years.

When I purchased my 2 ½ acres, I was assured by the seller I’d always have plenty of water, which is why I moved here. I wanted a lawn (which keeps down the dust, cools the air, mitigates any rare flooding, keeps out the weeds, and in general sooths the soul). I wanted shade trees and an orchard. In truth, I love living in the desert but I wanted an OASIS in the desert, not a rock or rocks. I was also informed about the mythical third largest aquifer in the U.S. that Pahrump supposedly sat on.

Now I read the many newspaper articles – the Mirror and the Times, I’ve attended meetings presented by the state/county and also meetings presented by the domestic well owners association.

I measured the water level in my well when I moved in and I measured it quite recently, and it has gone down some.

I’ve listened to the water engineers and other “experts” pointing to their charts and calculations for current and future prognostications. It didn’t sound like they really knew. I’ve listened to landowners, mostly in the south part of town, lamenting that their domestic wells have gone dry because of water being mindlessly pumped onto bare ground by neighbors just to maintain water rights.

And I even got into my pickup and took a look around. I slowly drove down nine streets parallel to mine on the north side covering over 400 one-and-a quarter and two-and-a-half acre parcels, looking for those rascally domestic well owners whose property needed a haircut. On a scale of 0 – 10 (“10” being a property with scores of trees and a high percentage covered in grass, and “0” being a parcel with a well but completely bare or with a trailer or building with nothing but weeds and broken windows. If the parcel had no lawn and only a very few trees or bushes, I gave it a “1.” If it had a lot of trees and a lawn less than 20 percent of the property, I gave it a “5.”

Of the 400-plus parcels, 312 were either a “0” or a “1”, 41 parcels were a “2”, 27 parcels were a “3”, and 27 were a “4” or “5.” I did give 7 parcels a “10” … not because they had any lawn but because they were loaded with salt cedars.

Nobody lived in a water park. In fact, 80 percent of the domestic well owners’ parcels use “0” to an unbelievably small amount of water for landscaping. Haircut? Looked like almost all the parcels were damn near bald.

One thing I did notice however, was the amount of salt cedars growing in my neighborhood. According to a Mirror article from March 19, by Gennesee Martin, the tree can and does send a root down to the water table and when mature (and all the salt cedars around me are mature … 20 – 30 years old), sucks out 200 gallons per tree per day!!! My neighbor not far away has at least 100 salt cedars. Folks, that’s 20,000 gallons of water A DAY being sucked up from the groundwater. Another parcel at the end of my street has at least 200 salt cedars. That’s 40,000 gallons per day. At a reasonable guess, I’d say there’s at least 10,000 salt cedars in Pahrump. That’s 2,000,000 gallons A DAY sucked up.

Maybe we should concentrate on removing salt cedars rather than the domestic well owners’ rights. I personally removed 18 or 20 mature salt cedars from an Amargosa property 10 years ago. I had to cut them down, then pull out the root ball with a backhoe. They’ve never come back. If the state pays to remove the salt cedars and gives the landowner of those properties state-provided acceptable trees, such as water-miser Mondale pines, we’d be accomplishing a lot.

To calculate water usage of over 11,000 domestic water wells at two acre feet a year is ridiculous. Eighty percent of those 11,000 wells don’t even come close. The law of 1872 would need to be changed by the state Legislature, not a water engineer.

Let’s get real. No one wants to see a half million people move into the valley. Even a few housing subdivisions bringing in thousands of people is too much. We’d just be taking water away from one group (that already call Pahrump home) and giving it to developers to bring in more people to use up more water.

In 1872 domestic well owners were given two acre feet a year so they would have the water to grow some food to put on the table. The way things are going in the world today, domestic well owners might need to do the same, and taking their water rights from them is going to devalue their property.

Over the last 70 years haven’t we learned anything? Overdeveloping destroys the community.

Dennis Bostwick is a long-time resident of Pahrump.

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