Questions continue to swirl around groundwater committee’s priority list

After a year of assessment, the Pahrump Basin Groundwater Management Plan Committee presented its 11-item priority list of action items, whittled down from 180, to the County Commission on Tuesday for review and comment.

Groundwater committee chairman Gregory Hafen said that after discussing the proposed list with the Nye County Water District, additional items were incorporated as subcategories for further study.

One of those items, Hafen said, was an educational component which informed the public that domestic wells could not be used for commercial purposes. Commissioner Dan Schinhofen questioned how that applied to home-based businesses and whether they would be exempted.

In response, Commissioner Frank Carbone, who acts as a liaison to to the groundwater committee, said that county staff is working to clarify the definition of the term “commercial” as it applies to water use.

A new planning code for parceling and relinquishment of water rights for development and a master plan update which includes numerous water conservation components, have also been considered and incorporated by the groundwater committee as suggested by the county commission.

Hafen told the county commission that the groundwater committee suggested that the Nye County Water District commission geoscience data collection to be used to help with decision making for future redistribution of pumping.

Hafen asked for input from the county commission as to the direction of the study and their assessment of the rate at which the committee is proceeding.

Though Schinhofen had praise for committee progress, he opined that the Nye County Water District should be tasked with the effort. He also reminded the groundwater committee that they were expected to have a priority list within six months, which was then extended to one year. “I think you’ve done as good as you can do,” he said. “I’m afraid this is going to be a continual committee. I think we need concrete things to bring to the state engineer.”

Schinhofen told Hafen he wanted a proposed list for a groundwater plan to vote on next month. Commissioner Lorinda Wichman disagreed with Schinhofen claiming that setting a time limit on the groundwater committee may prevent valuable ideas and solutions from being sought out and studied. “If we don’t give them a sense of urgency, it will drag on longer,” Schinhofen rebutted. “The sky is not going to fall tomorrow, but we do have to plan for the future.”

Hafen told the board the Nye County staff have presented the committee with data which demonstrates that water levels are typically rising on the alluvial fan of the aquifer. However, he said, in certain areas of the the Pahrump Valley floor, the aquifer water levels are falling.

Schinhofen agreed that further data collection and study was needed and he would like to see a plan for getting water from the alluvial fan to the valley floor. Hafen said that process of aquifer storage and recovery, though expensive, is being used in Las Vegas.

Carbone said that without well level data available it will be difficult to make decisions based on science. He also opined that domestic well users were not well represented in committee study or makeup, citing the fact that three members of the groundwater committee are affiliated with water and sewer utility companies.

That assertion spurred Wichman’s ire who said that there was good representation of domestic well users on the county commission, the groundwater committee and the Nye County Water District. Wichman said she found the allegation that domestic well owners were not represented or considered, to be “offensive.”

Each of the commissioners, Schinhofen said, are domestic well owners, and as such, are all concerned about domestic well use.

Carbone said the focus needs to be shifted to the aquifer, away from domestic wells and utility companies.

Commissioner Butch Borasky said that conclusive proof of aquifer levels is needed. He also urged the committee to conclude its work. “I would like to see you to step on it a little bit. The state water engineer is not going to wait forever,” he said.

Several references were made to the state water engineer deadline for a groundwater management plan. Under current water law, the state water engineer can mandate that a groundwater management plan be completed and implemented with 10 years of a “critical” management area designation. There has been no designation of the Pahrump Basin. Any deadline for a groundwater management plan, under the current law, would be self-imposed by Nye County.

However, the state water engineer has proposed an amendment to state water law which would replace the term “critical” with “active.” Under that proposal, which the Senate Government Affairs Committee deemed to be flawed and in need of revision, a groundwater management plan must be completed within five years, if a basin receives a designation. Under that scenario, if a plan is not in place within five years, the state water engineer can impose further regulations at his discretion.

As part of public comment, Dave Caudle told the commission that the only way to gauge the aquifer level is by static water level testing. Water meters will only tell how much water is being used, he said. Meters, he said, “Will not do a thing for a model.”

Planning Director Darrell Lacy said that there will be a presentation on the two available water models at a joint meeting of the Nye County Water District and the groundwater committee on Monday. One model, managed by the Desert Research Institute, is somewhat limited and outdated. A smaller, localized administrative model that can be run by county staff, will also be presented.

A non-inclusive list of other items to be discussed at the joint meeting are the options for removing parcels from the county tax rolls that are scheduled to be sold for unpaid taxes, as a means to conserve water; proposed recommended changes to Senate Bills 65 and 81 and installation of meters on new domestic wells.

The public is urged to attend the meeting which will be held at the County Commission Chambers, located at 2100 E. Walt Williams Drive in Pahrump on Feb. 23 at 9 a.m.

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