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February 6, 2004

WATER WORRIES

Good, bad news on PV's water supply

By MARK WAITE
PVT



MARK WAITE / PVT
Bob Coache, Nevada Division of Water Resources southern branch office chief engineer, shows a slide on the overhead projector in front of a crowd at the Pahrump Community Center.
Bob Coache, Nevada Division of Water Resources chief engineer, dispelled a few rumors Wednesday night that concerned many in the crowd of about 100 people at the Bob Ruud Community Center.

A new state law that takes effect July 1, 2005, pertains only to Las Vegas; the state engineer won't close any operating wells in Pahrump Valley.

The state doesn't plan to meter individual wells in Pahrump.

The aquifer underneath Pahrump Valley extends into Clark County, but the state engineer's office doesn't recognize county boundaries.

The state has no plans to file for water rights in the Pahrump Artesian Basin.

While that was the good news, Coache also had some bad news. The recharge from the Spring Mountains is nowhere near enough to replenish the Pahrump groundwater supply, no matter what anyone else thinks. Local officials better think about securing water rights elsewhere, he said.

The first well was drilled in Pahrump in 1910, Coache said. Today there's 10,134 wells in Pahrump Valley, not counting a few new well logs that might have been received this week. On the average, there have been 399 wells drilled every year for the last five years. There are about 60,000 acre-feet of water rights held in Pahrump Valley with a recharge of 22,000 to 26,000 acre feet, he said.

"The sooner you can get applications out to apply for water in other basins the better off you are. Someone else can apply in front of you," Coache said.

It might take time to obtain funding for infrastructure for water projects through Congress, he said, while the environmental laws continue to get stricter.

"The very thing I hear Pahrump worried about Las Vegas doing - those son of a guns wanting to take our water - are the exact same things Pahrump has to do right now," Coache said.

That response came to an inquiry on whether to form a regional water management agency in Southern Nye County. Coache said it isn't the policy of the state engineer's office to dictate policy, but in his opinion it seemed like a reasonable suggestion.

"It's not a question of if, it's a question of when Pahrump will need an alternate source of water," Coache said. While he predicted it wouldn't be during his tenure as chief engineer, Coache said it could happen in his lifetime.

A drop in the groundwater could result in increased pumping costs, land subsidence, and impairing existing water rights.

Coache referred to the soaring real estate prices in Las Vegas, which might lead some homeowners to consider Pahrump.

"I hear rumors someone wants to build 4,000 homes, make this a real bedroom suburb of Las Vegas," he said. "We could see things starting to jump over here, it just depends. The sooner the planning, the more cost efficient it is."

But what about the talk of Pahrump sitting atop the third largest aquifer in the U.S.? In response to that question, Coache put a slide on the overhead projector of Snow White, indicating it's just a fairy tale.

"It's not even the third largest (aquifer) in the state of Nevada," Coache said. The Spring Valley and Steptoe Valley aquifers are three to four times what the Pahrump aquifer is, he said.

Dave Swanson, deputy director of the Nye County Department of Natural Resources and Federal Facilities, said his office was looking at investigating groundwater resources in Pahrump Valley, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension Service. Officials have considered even drilling down to the deep carbonate aquifer beneath Pahrump.

"What's the purpose of that? What would we get out of that?" Coache asked. His only concern was the charts showing water recharge from the Spring Mountains and the water usage. Coache added tapping the deepwater aquifer would only consume water from the shallower water table.

Swanson said afterwards Coache looks at it from strictly a regulatory angle. While Coache's chart might show a declining water table at a couple wells in Pahrump, county officials could find the water table could actually be rising just across the street, he said.

Besides seeking an alternate source of water, Coache suggested regulations requiring low use water fixtures, limits on landscaping, reusing effluent as gray water, even regulating growth, to cut down on water consumption. But Coache couldn't tell Paul Willis what would be a magical population figure where growth should be curtailed.

Developer Tim Hafen said homes in his Artesia Two subdivision have been using much less than the 1.12 acre feet of water rights he had to donate for each dwelling under the state engineer's policy. Hafen said that inflexible policy required him to cut 20 lots from his development.

"Our actual use, and there's about 80, 85 homes, is less than a half acre-foot per day. We're around 400 to 450 gallons per day actual use," Hafen said. An acre-foot is over 320,000 gallons, enough to flood an acre of land a foot deep. Water officials routinely state it's equal to what a family of five would use in a year.

While large water owners are metered, Coache said, it would cost $368 to put a meter on one household well.

"The cost in Pahrump alone would be over $3 million to put meters on wells, plus our administrative cost to go out and read them," he said. "The thought of putting meters on wells is absolutely ridiculous in Pahrump."

The state engineer could issue an order to install a meter on a domestic well if they were obviously abusing the 1,800-gallon per day limit, something that is unlikely, he said.

Regarding another question, Coache said, "I'm not aware of anybody outside of Pahrump who's filed for water rights in Pahrump. The state does not file for water rights other than for entities it requires."

The interested parties in the audience included real estate officials like Donna Lamm, a member of the Pahrump Valley Community Action Team water resources task force and PVCAT President Karen Spalding, Walt Kuver from the master plan steering committee and Lawrence Baker, president of the Nye County Well Owners Association.



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