Wade Poulsen, general manager of the Lincoln County Water District, reported at the county commission meeting Dec. 19 on two upcoming bills in the next session of the Nevada State Legislature.
He told a meeting of the water district board, which is comprised of all sitting members of the commission board, that SB73 and SB74 are of importance to citizens of Lincoln County.
He reported that SB73 s basically a tool for managing over-appropriated groundwater basins. It sets forth “domestic well owner rights that allows the state water engineer to include domestic wells in critically managed areas and groundwater management plans.”
Poulsen said he thinks, “this bill is probably going to be a very contentious one.”
He explained SB73 is the bill that signifies that the state engineer, Jason King, could reduce the current annual two-acre feet of water (651,702 gallons) for well users down to a half-an-acre foot (162,925 gallons).
Poulsen noted that the current challenge to the law is being driven by the Pahrump Valley. “In the Pahrump Valley they have over 11,000 domestic wells,” he said.
Pahrump has a critically managed water basin that is heavily over-appropriated, using over three times as much as the basin can recharge itself normally.
Poulsen said studies have shown that the water table in the Pahrump Valley has dropped some, “but not yet what is considered a significant amount.”
He said some of the well users there, while allowed two acre feet, are really using between five to 10 acre feet.
State Senator Pete Goicoechia, chairman of the state natural resources sub-committee, spoke with Poulsen about the water district’s desire to keep the law as it is, allowing two-acre feet per year. “Yes, it may be a problem in a critically managed basin, but don’t make it statewide. That is going to be our push when I do meet with officials at the state legislature,” he said. “It should not be something that applies to Lincoln County or a number of the other counties because they are not being critically managed at this point.”
He said Sen. Goicoechia, regarding the proposed bill, has said, ‘Where do you draw the line?’”
The 79th session of the legislature begins in Carson City Feb. 6, 2017.
Another bill is SB74, which “revises provisions relating to the planning and development of water resources, allows for the collection of precipitation from domestic rooftops and BLM domestic guzzlers.”
Poulsen reported he sees a problem with this bill as prohibiting gathering of rain water from domestic roof tops. In other word, it would be against the law for you to collect and use run off rainwater from the top of a roof. It should be allowed to soak back into the ground and come out of natural springs. Ponds and special tanks on public lands and ranges that gather rain and runoff water for livestock and wildlife use would also be affected. Water could still be hauled in by truck for livestock and wildlife, but not the use of collection tanks.
The Nevada Department of Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have over 1,600 guzzlers throughout the state.
Commissioner Varlin Higbee said it is just another attempted overreach by the government.
“If that should be shut off, it limits our (the county’s) growth. Without water there will be no growth.” He added that developers would not want land if no water was available for their plans. “The federal government has already tied our hands up with wilderness areas and monuments, and now the state wants to do the same with no water?” he said.
Poulsen said the point he will make to a special advisory committee to be formed to deal with SB74, “is that you should be able to catch water from runoff and use it. Citizens as well as ranchers and agriculturalists should continue to be allowed to catch and use rainwater how they see fit as long as it doesn’t encroach or infringe upon another person’s rights.”
Poulsen concluded the proposed bill could be harmless and do absolutely nothing, or it could become a monstrosity as it goes through the legislature.
A third bill Poulsen said the water district needs to keep its eye on is SB51, which has to do with vested water rights. By the year 2020 a person must make application with the state water engineer or notification that you have vested water rights. “They don’t really have a handle on who does and who doesn’t,” he said. Assistant County District Attorney Franklin Katschke said the intent of the bill is to seek to prevent someone coming in and apply over the vested water rights you may already have.
Higbee said he attempted the very thing some year ago on some land he grazed cattle on in the Wells area and was deterred numerous times and told it would cost him $384,000 to file on the many springs in the area that were used to water his livestock. “We proved that the range had been in use since the 1800s, but it was made impossible for us to file.”
Poulsen said a lot of water rights “have not been proved up on for years and years and years,” hence the need to do so by 2020.