Nevada drought inspires high waste bills

Nevada water officials say the state needs to restrict water waste and underground water use in the face of lingering drought conditions.

State water engineer Jason King presented two bills to the Senate Government Affairs Committee Wednesday that would present significant overhauls to the state’s water management program.

King described Senate Bill 65 as a housekeeping measure that would modernize state law with portions unchanged since 1919. The bill would update language affecting water rights and groundwater as well as implement several changes to laws affecting domestic wells.

The proposal met opposition from a group of Pahrump residents upset with what they viewed as a “power grab” by the state.

“This is not a ‘cleanup,’ this is ‘give me more power,’” Pahrump resident John Bosta said during the bill hearing.

A number of water and county lobbyists presented several alternative ideas during the bill hearing, and several requested a work session to hammer out some of the bill details.

Senate Bill 81 expands the power of the state’s water authority to govern and manage groundwater shortages in areas suffering from severe drought. King said he worked with water rights holders in Pahrump and other rural areas suffering from extreme drought and spiraling groundwater levels to plan a course of action balancing water level shortages and the needs of residents.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture declared most of Nevada a natural disaster area last week due to lingering drought and officials say more trouble is coming for ranchers and farmers in western Nevada where irrigation cutbacks have been ordered.

Republican Sen. Pete Goicoechea said the bills were critically important for parts of rural Nevada that have come to largely depend on groundwater due to the state’s extended drought.

“If this doesn’t change, some people won’t have drinking water by fall,” he said.


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