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Two acre feet is a lot of water

How much, really, is two acre feet of water?

That unit of measurement has been used in these pages since I arrived 16 months ago, and I’m sure for decades before me. But how much, exactly is two acre feet?

According to my trusty online calculator, an acre foot is roughly 326,000 liquid gallons. So right now in Pahrump, domestic well owners can pump nearly 652,000 gallons of water under state law.

That is an insane amount of water that I guarantee no homeowner on or off a well in the Pahrump area uses.

So how much water is two acre feet? According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Science School, old showers use up to 5 gallons of water per minute, while water-saving shower heads produce about 2 gallons per minute. So let’s split the difference and say your shower uses 3.5 gallons per minute. If you got up, went in your shower and turned it on and didn’t return until mid-May, that would use just under two acre feet.

Or if you want a more proactive experiment, flush the toilet 217,000 times and you will get in the ballpark of using two acre feet.

So why are we talking about this now? Because there are close to 11,000 household domestic wells in the Pahrump basin that the state would like to take conservation measures on by cutting the allocation to 0.5 acre feet and place meters on the wells.

According to the state, 0.5 acre foot is less than what the average home in the Las Vegas Valley uses annually.

This obviously has some domestic well owners concerned. The problem is that water is not an unlimited supply, and the state is in an unprecedented drought.

In late September, there was a three-day summit and public workshop about drought and water rights in the state. And almost everyone believes there will be a intense discussion in the 2017 Legislature over state water management.

According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, an eight-member drought forum was created by Gov. Brian Sandoval in April to analyze Nevada’s water situation and recommend ways the driest state in the nation can prepare for sustained drought.

Sandoval has said he will take the forum’s suggestions and probably incorporate them into his office’s 2017 legislative agenda.

Jason King, Nevada’s state water engineer, who has a lot of vocal detractors in Pahrump, is trying to wade through growing water concerns not only in Pahrump but statewide.

As many domestic well owners here remember, King sought unsuccessfully for authorization to cap and meter wells “in overly-taxed and distressed groundwater basins such as Pahrump.”

Most urban and town residents such as myself have water meters, but domestic wells in the state have remained unregulated even though they are limited to that two acre feet by the state.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” King said late last year. “Why shouldn’t we know how much water we’re using?”

Some domestic well owners in Pahrump would answer him with a variety of answers ranging from personal rights to fear of setting the stage for municipal or utility control of water, to well meters would move the town a step closer to incorporation. The last two are cost-prohibitive so it really is only the personal rights issue, in my opinion.

This is a discussion that will continue well into the next Legislature and beyond. But the water problems are a statewide problem, and the household domestic well owners of Pahrump may be left feeling all wet.

Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times. Contact him at akinghtly@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @KnightlyGrind

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