It's no secret that the most valuable commodity in Nevada is water. Even wastewater.
In Silver Springs, a dispute is brewing over the disposal of wastewater from the General Improvement District's sewage treatment plant.
In 1999, just before its new sewage treatment plant opened, the GID signed a 50-year agreement with Hale Bennett, a farmer and manager of the Silver Springs Airport, that allows the utility to dispose effluent on the airport grounds. The contract doesn't distinguish between airport property and Bennett's adjacent private property, where he grows wheat and has been using the effluent on his wheat crop.
At the time of the 1999 agreement, there was no place for the county to dispose of effluent from its new sewage plant, Bennett said.
"They didn't have a place to put it, and we thought we could find a place to put it temporarily, then find other uses for it long-term," he said, adding that the GID has been trying to find a loophole in the contract for about the last eight or 10 months.
"It began when we started talking about wanting to sell effluent for dust suppression for construction," he said.
The GID-Bennett dispute over the effluent came to a head when the Bennetts sold acreage to the Builder's Choice Co. to manufacture trusses. The effluent pipeline cuts across the sold property.
Don Ogden, owner of Builder's Choice, offered to move the effluent line at his company's expense, but the GID had refused to allow it. Board member Harry Bryant said at a GID meeting in April, moving the effluent would violate the terms of an Army Corps of Engineers grant that paid for the line.
Dave Killigan, public affairs spokesman for the Corps of Engineers doesn't see a problem with moving the pipeline.
"All we do is provide funding and parameters on how to build the thing," he said. "Unless they're filling in a wetlands, we don't get involved beyond that."
Frustrated, Ogden withdrew his offer to move the pipes.
At the same meeting, the board voted to ask Deputy District Attorney Steve Rye to write a letter detailing alleged problems with the reuse contract. When contacted, Rye declined to comment, saying he had not completed his letter.
Though there is no money involved in the contract, growth has made wastewater a salable commodity and Bennett wants his share, though he wasn't sure how much he could get for the wastewater.
"We haven't had anything to look at or consider," he said. "We would want a fair price for it. That kind of depends on what (the GID) is going to sell it for."
According to Joe Howard, senior licensed engineer for Washoe County Department of Water Resources, treated effluent can be a desirable commodity, particularly for golf courses, farms and construction industries.
"We have over 200 service connections and we distribute over 2,000 acre-feet a year," he said, adding that that was the equivalent of about 650 million gallons of effluent sold from Washoe County last year.
Howard said the rates in Washoe County vary by jurisdiction, depending on the way capital costs are handled, but last year the county sold treated effluent for between $1 per thousand gallons and $1.28 per thousand gallons.
In addition, there are standard monthly service rates depending on meter size, from $9.82 per month for a 3/4-inch connection and $67.07 per month for a 10-inch connection.
In Carson City, Tom Hoffert, Public Works operations manager said the Parks Department and animal control offices use treated effluent, as do government entities and golf courses.
He said the golf courses use 500 acre-feet off effluent a year and pay 21 cents for every 1,000 gallons.
"It's not a big moneymaker at this point for Carson City," he said, though he added the city was in the process of updating its water reuse plan.
Bennett envisions construction companies that want to take advantage of Silver Springs' burgeoning growth to use in road building and dust suppression.
"There are uses out there," he said. "There are people using potable water by many dozens of truckloads. The truss factory had to do all their construction using potable water. That's almost criminal in a basin where there is limited potable water."
Bennett is determined to fight any attempt to abrogate the contract, and believes he will find a market for the wastewater.
"When we have the population, I think we will have one," he said. "Maybe sooner, because I believe our county commissioners would be very interested in using effluent, if we can produce effluent for them at a lesser price than they pay to pump potable water right now."
Bennett said he was not opposed to finding a compromise with the improvement district.
"But there's going to have to be some give-and-take on their part," he said. "If they just sit up in their chairs and threaten me, then no."
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@ nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.