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Nye County Water District stands

After several months of hearings, Senate Bill 21 that sought to repeal the Nye County Water District died in the Nevada Legislature.

During the May 16 hearing, the Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining didn’t take a vote on the bill and asked Nye County commissioners to provide individual letters stating their position on the bill.

The bill wasn’t placed on the committee’s May 18 agenda. With no action taken by the end of May 19 deadline, the measure died.

Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, D-Las Vegas, chairwoman of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee, said the proposed legislature would do “more harm than good” to Nye County.

“After many conversations with residents from Nye County and several colleagues, we all reached a consensus that this policy would do more harm than good for the county, ” Swank said. “The Nye County Water District has done some very good work to help regulate the basins in the county, especially any that are overappropriated.”

Nye County reaction

Senate Bill 21 was chosen by the Nye County commissioners for the Nevada Legislature after a 3-2 vote in August 2016. Commissioners Lorinda Wichman and Dan Schinhofen, the two opponents of the bill, issued statements following its demise.

“It is refreshing to see that countywide needs have prevailed,” Wichman said.

“I am happy that we will still have two boards to contend or cooperate with the state engineer on all of the 44 basins here in Nye County,” Schinhofen said.

Commissioner Donna Cox, the main proponent of the bill, didn’t return a request for comment by press time. During her testimony at the May 16 hearing, Cox argued that the Nye County Water District was created to import water to Pahrump when the town was expected to grow.

“The water district now has become obsolete for the reasons for which it was created. We no longer need to import water,” she said.

Joni Eastley, chairwoman and a founding member of Central Nevada Regional Water Authority, said she was neutral on the bill.

“I can tell you the sole purpose was to create a water district that would enable us to be on equal footing with the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which had filed on water rights in Railroad Valley, also in Nye County,” Eastley said in her testimony to the Nevada Legislature.

“My colleagues at the time and I had very strong feelings about protecting the county’s water resources so we could avoid being the target of the same deportation scheme our sister county, White Pine, was fighting. … I will admit there was some discussion at the time that one of the statutory authorities granted to a water district was importation, but this was never the focus of its creation,” Eastley said.

A closer look

The Nye County Water District is funded by the $5 per parcel annual fee and many Pahrump residents said they wanted the district to be repealed.

“Perhaps better knowledge and understanding of the roles played by everyone with a commitment to Nye County water resources, and greater consideration of the needs of the residents of the rest of the county as well, are what is truly needed,” Eastley said.

Some of Nye County residents who testified against the bill at the May 16 hearing suggested a connection between the Nye County Water District and Yucca Mountain, alleging that the district was created to support pumping of the water to the proposed nuclear waste repository in Nye County.

Oz Wichman, the district’s interim general manager, dismissed the allegations in a telephone interview with the Pahrump Valley Times.

“The water district was not created for the sole purpose of supporting Yucca Mountain, to the best of my knowledge,” he said.

The Nye County Water District meanwhile will continue to work on the Basin 162 Groundwater Management Plan and advertise for the two vacant seats and the two that are up for reappointment, Wichman said.

Swank said she had been contacted by many people who are in opposition of the bill but are unwilling to put “their name out there.”

“Having listened to many parties on this bill over the last two weeks, I have concerns, I think that Nye County has many overappropriated basins,” she said at the May 16 hearing.

Officials at the hearing requested letters from each Nye County commissioner who was in support of the bill. Officials didn’t say whether they received all of those letters.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77

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