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Scores testify at water meeting

A legislative subcommittee approved sending two draft bills dealing with domestic wells to the Legislature on Friday.

A request that would permit the state engineer to allow domestic well owners to use their wells for indoor use and to provide water for pets and livestock during severe drought was one of the drafts.

The Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Study Water also approved a bill draft that allows the State Engineer to limit withdrawals from new domestic wells to half an acre foot annually.

Subcommittee members stressed that the bill would not affect existing well owners.

Members of the public testified for 3.5 hours before the subcommittee in opposition to a variety of things.

Part of the debate was about what constitutes the right to use a domestic well in Nevada.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton said she wanted it to be clear that domestic well operators get to use the water, but that it’s not really a right.

However, Chairman Sen. Pete Goicoechea said he disagreed.

“It’s not a permitted right,” he said. “They do have the right to use the water. We’re really splitting some fine hairs. Domestic wells are a different creature. They are a property right. They cannot be traded or sold. It’s appurtenant to the property.”

State Engineer Jason King said he didn’t want to venture into the legal arena.

“All I can tell you is that it’s not a water right that can be transferred or sold,” he said. “A domestic well owner has a right to the use of the water.”

Under current Nevada water law, if a basin is severely overdrawing water the state engineer may order curtailment, which means that he could order water usage to stop starting with junior rights.

King said that his office considers 300 percent to be severely over appropriated.

Goicoechea expressed doubt that King would be successful in shutting down people’s wells.

“There’s not a court in the land that will tell a lady with a bag of dirty clothes and dirty dishes that she can’t use her water,” he said.

Genoa resident and former State Engineer Mike Turnipseed said that every water use in Nevada requires a permit except a domestic well.

“No other part of water law applies to domestic wells,” he said. “The notion of priority came later in the law.”

He said his office tried to get counties to notify people drilling wells that they couldn’t stop drilling when they hit water.

“Many of these wells are not drilled deep enough to support water in case of drought.”

Carson Water Subconservancy Executive Director Ed James said several of his board members, who are also county commissioners or city supervisors, have been inundated with phone calls about the issue.

“The Carson watershed is in good shape,” he said. “We have some issues that if we don’t deal with them soon, they will become crises. We need to start talking about these issues today, or 20 years from now we will have a bigger room with bigger issues.”

Gardnerville resident Jim White said he felt the state didn’t know enough about the aquifers.

“We should come up with some recommendations for the development of a simple solution to this problem that’s fair to all parties and provides some protection for the aquifer.”

Genoa resident June DeTurk said she was concerned that the well issue would be bad publicity for the Silver State.

At least one Silver Springs resident suggested that the cost of meters on wells might be better spent on a recall after complaining about not receiving adequate notice of the meeting.

Goicoechea responded that the subcommittee isn’t the final decision maker on any bill.

“If you think you weren’t adequately noticed it’s because we aren’t doing anything,” he said. “This is only a recommendation to go back to the Legislature. We’re dealing with recommendations from 20 sources. We’ll determine which ones we feel have merit and deal with them next spring at the full Legislature.”

The committee rejected a suggestion by the Southern Nevada Water Authority that every water user in the state have a meter.