Experts debate proposed order limiting water use
Appeal Staff Writer
As the saying goes, “you don’t miss your water ’til your well runs dry.”
The possibility of dry wells is what officials from the Nevada Division of Water Resources say they are trying to avoid by issuing an order limiting water appropriations in the Dayton Hydrographic Basin to 1,800 gallons per day, and to deny new appropriations entirely in the Stagecoach sub-basin.
The state engineer has stated there is more water committed in terms of water rights than exists in the basin, so the state wants to reduce the water rights to consumptive duty, rather than actual water, reducing the value of the rights. Those reductions mean 4 acre-feet of irrigation water rights become 2.5 acre-feet of domestic-use water rights – a 37.5 percent decrease. With this reduction, developers who purchased water rights from ranchers along with property, are at risk of not being able to build as many homes as they had anticipated.
A public hearing Wednesday was a continuation of a May 3 hearing, said hearing officer Tim Wilson, and drew an overflow crowd to the Dayton Community Center.
Lyon County Commissioner Bob Milz complained the state engineer’s order effectively reduces the value of property, and endangered the county’s ability to pay for infrastructure.
“We put together a master plan for water and sewers for the basin based on the old calculations,” he said. “We borrowed $30 million for infrastructure based on the number of houses. If (developers) cannot build the number of houses, we might not be able to pay back those bonds. You could drive Lyon County into bankruptcy.”
Attorney G. David Robertson, of Robertson and Benevento, said there was statutory authority for the state engineer to reduce irrigation rights. His firm represents five developers in the Dayton Valley area.
“We’ve performed an exhaustive scientific study of the Dayton Valley Groundwater Basin,” he said. “The study shows without a doubt the groundwater table is not declining.”
George Thiel, a civil engineer with expertise in water issues hired by the law firm offered a sharp rebuttal to the state engineer’s claim that the aquifer is at risk.
Thiel said water levels in the basin are not dropping, and that pumpage has actually decreased because residences use less water than irrigated fields.
Thiel said the state engineer studied monitoring wells that were located near pumping wells, and the water level in those wells dropped because of the pumping. He said the state should have monitored older, deeper wells which would be more representative of the actual water table level. Thiel said those wells showed now decrease in the water level and that 40 percent of the water that services residents was returned to the groundwater system.
Thiel estimated the annual recharge at 12,985 acre-feet, and said water appropriations are 12,968 acre-feet.
“By proper accounting, the basin is in equilibrium,” he said.
Dan Rice, a resident of Mound House, spoke in favor of the order, with reservations, he said.
“I am not a water expert, but each year my water bill goes up, and the amount that I can use goes down,” he said. “People here will have to import water or have usage go down.”
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111 ext. 351.