Domestic well debate arrives in Douglas | RecordCourier.com
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Domestic well debate arrives in Douglas

Groups protesting a proposal to change Nevada law affecting domestic wells say it’s an effort to take away their water rights.

Meanwhile, officials for Nevada Department of Water Resources counter that the change in the law is needed to allow well owners to continue to receive water if the state steps in.

Well owners plan to protest the implementation of rules they say would reduce their water use at an Aug. 26 meeting of an interim subcommittee of the Nevada Legislature.

Under Nevada law, basins where actual pumping is found to exceed recharge of groundwater may be subject to something called curtailment.

If the State Engineer orders curtailment of ground water by priority, domestic well owners’ water rights would be considered junior, and they could be cut off.

“What we’ve proposed is softening that blow,” said Deputy Administrator of the Division of Water Resources Susan Joseph-Taylor. “We are proposing to protect people.”

In an April 19 memo to the Legislative Sub-committee, State Engineer Jason King said he is required to regulate water use by priority, including domestic well use.

“The state engineer believes that it would be held unthinkable to restrict people from water use inside their homes and therefore would like to see this provision amended to restrict outdoor use only in times of curtailment,” he said.

That’s never happened in Nevada. but if it did under current water law, it could mean shutting off peoples’ wells.

Joseph-Taylor said she expects that the process would include notification and a hearing.

According to a well owners group, limitations being fought include a reduction in the water usage from domestic wells from 2 acre feet to a half acre foot, installation of meters and penalties for overuse.

Private Well Owners Coop of Nye County Vice President John F. Bosta is seeking revision of the state law that says the date of priority for the use of underground water from a domestic well is the completion of the well.

The Nye County group contends that the law is unconstitutional.

Among the issues, are that rights to domestic wells would be sold to utilities who would then force well owners onto their system.

Joseph-Taylor said the Department of Water Resources doesn’t have the authority to confiscate peoples’ water rights.

Under Nevada law, well owners have been required to abandon their wells for years if water can be furnished by a regulated utility.

“The state engineer may require plugging any domestic well drilled on or after July 1, 1981, anytime a year after water can be furnished by a utility, but only if the connection fee is less than $200,” according to the Department of Water Resources. The department’s frequently asked questions says it hasn’t been requiring that until a domestic well requires repairs that require setting up a drill rig.

According to the Division of Water Resources, Smith and Mason valleys were the first in Nevada to face curtailment of supplemental groundwater rights in 2015.

State Engineer Jason King attempted to cut in half the irrigation rights being pumped in those Lyon County valleys. A district judge issued an injunction, saying King should follow seniority for water rights, which is the same way Nevada deals with surface water.

Joseph-Taylor said the supplemental rights are different from the 2 acre feet per well held by domestic well owners.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Carson Valley has 52,500 acre feet of ground water recharge every year. In 2011, before the start of the drought, withdrawal was estimated at 20,469 acre feet.

However, after four dry and one average winter, that withdrawal may have increased depending on the pumping of supplemental agricultural rights.

The meeting of the Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Study Water is 9 a.m. Aug. 26 in Room 3138 of the Legislative Building, 401 S. Carson St., in Carson City.

More information is available at https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/InterimCommittee/REL/Interim2015/Committee/401/Meetings