Fernley requires developers to get water rights | NevadaAppeal.com

Fernley requires developers to get water rights

Cory McConnell

The Fernley city council on Wednesday changed the way it will handle growth in an effort to balance a limited water supply with a population boom that has doubled the city’s ranks in the past eight years.

Virtually all of Fernley’s municipal groundwater supply is spoken for and, without a change in its water regulations, city officials feared a premature ending to the once-sleepy desert town’s massive growth spurt.

In front of what Fernley Mayor Dave Stix said was a packed house evenly divided between residents and developers, the council unanimously voted to make developers supply enough water to support any new homes they want to build.

Instead of paying a $5,000 fee to hook onto city water, builders now must buy 1.12 acres of water rights for each new home. The city will accept either groundwater rights or Newlands Project irrigation water rights that aren’t susceptible to challenge, Stix said.

Developers have mixed emotions on the regulation change. Most understand the move, but say it’s going to complicate development and possibly drive up home prices.

Rick Demar, executive officer of the Builders Association of Western Nevada, recounted a recent water rights sale negotiation where the asking price went from $5,000 an acre to $25,000 in the space of about a week.

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It’s that kind of volatility that could wreak havoc on the market for low to mid-priced homes, Demar said.

“How can they build affordable homes in a community where an acre of water (rights) just went from $1,000 to $25,000 in a couple months?”

Still, Demar said, the ordinance change “is a step in the right direction for the future of their community.”

While the city will accept either ground or surface water, officials expect the city’s primary municipal water source to be irrigation water from the Truckee Canal by mid-2006.

And while farmers and leaders of downstream communities like Churchill County cringe at the idea of Fernley-area developers getting in the market for water rights, Stix said Fernley’s plan may just be the savior of Newlands Project agriculture.

“Both (Fernley and Fallon) have received pressure to decouple that canal,” Stix said. “It’s a lot easier to pick on farms than it is to pick on a city with all these residents and businesses like Amazon.com.

“We think the best way for you to keep your ag water is for us to use the canal for municipal purposes.”

The city is considering blending treated irrigation water with water from its acquifer to reduce the cost of arsenic removal.

A new federal arsenic standard for drinking water of 10 parts per billion is set to kick in by January 2006. Fernley, with water that hovers just below the old standard of 50 ppb, received an extension on the new limit giving it until 2009 to comply.

Plans for some 2,500 homes, for which developers have already obtained tentative approval, will not be affected by the ordinance change but any other new homes will have to come with water.

Contact reporter Cory McConnell at cmcconnell@lahontanvalleynews.com.