Domestic well hearing set for Tuesday | RecordCourier.com

Domestic well hearing set for Tuesday

Staff Reports

Two bills that would change how Nevada regulates domestic wells are scheduled to be heard in the Legislature on Tuesday.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee will hear S.B. 271 and 272 at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Room 1214 of the Nevada Legislative Building, 401 S. Carson St., Carson City.

The meeting will be live-streamed at http://www.leg.state.nv.us.

Under SB 271, domestic well owners in groundwater basins designated critical management areas would be allowed to continue to use their wells for indoor and livestock watering.

Under current law, water use is determined by seniority. For a domestic well that means the date it was drilled.

Nevada law prohibits the mining of ground water, which means that withdrawal from a basin does not exceed recharge from natural and other sources. Should the State Engineer determine that more water is being pumped from an aquifer than is being replenished, then a curtailment order can be issued and the basin considered a critical management area.

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Should that happen junior water users, which includes most domestic well owners, could be ordered to shut down their only water supply.

The state engineer has never ordered curtailment of the use of ground water in a Nevada basin.

The bill would also require domestic well owners provide information on their well depth, how much water they use and the acreage the water is used under S.B. 271. That information is already required from quasi-municipal and agricultural well owners.

Senate Bill 272 would allow new domestic well owners in critical management areas to use up to half an acre foot of water a year. That provision would not affect wells drilled before July 1, 2017, according to the bill.

Both bills were introduced on March 15.

In Nevada, domestic well owners are allowed to pump 2 acre feet per year. An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover one acre with a foot of water. It is typically used as the measurement of a household's water use during a year.

While well owners have the right to use the water, they can't sell it separately from the land and aren't granted a water right in the way that agricultural or municipal water well owners are.

"Domestic wells do not require a water right permit from the state engineer, but are deemed by state law to be a 'protectable interest' and are allowed to use up to 2 acre feet of water annually," according to a report authored by the Legislative Commission's Subcommittee to Study Water. "Drought and growth have combined to create increasingly contentious water resources issues related to domestic wells."

The issue sprang from the desert community of Pahrump where there are 11,000 domestic wells. If all were pumped to the maximum that alone would exceed the basin's recharge rate. There are also water utilities that serve the town with ground water rights.

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. During the 1990s drought, withdrawal was determined to be about 35,000 acre feet at its height. The difference is in use of supplemental ground water rights irrigators are permitted to use to make up for a lack of available surface water due to drought. Most of those rights date back to the 19th Century, and are senior to domestic well use.

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The Senate Natural Resources Committee will hear S.B. 271 and 272 at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Room 1214 of the Nevada Legislative Building, 401 S. Carson St., Carson City.

The meeting will be live-streamed at http://www.leg.state.nv.us.