State issues order to curb new Pahrump Valley wells
The spur to an effort to alter Nevada law dealing with domestic wells was the subject of an order announced on Wednesday.
Nevada State Engineer Jason King issued an order requiring Pahrump Valley residents to obtain 2 acre feet of water rights to drill a new domestic well.
The order doesn’t affect wells that require rehabilitation or anyone who has already relinquished water rights to serve a new well.
Two bills before the Nevada Legislature last spring would have allowed the State Engineer to reduce domestic well water use in basins subject to a curtailment order to prevent pumping from exceeding replenishment.
In Pahrump Valley, there are 11,280 domestic wells, the highest density in the state. Under Nevada law, each well owner is permitted to pump up to 2 acre-feet. Those wells are in addition to 59,175 acre-feet of permitted groundwater rights.
According to the Nevada Division of Water Resources, the annual replenishment in the Pahrump basin is 20,000 acre feet a year.
There are roughly 4,000 domestic wells in Douglas County.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Carson Valley has 52,500 acre feet of ground water recharge every year. In 2011, 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 groundwater rights irrigators are permitted to use to make up for a lack of available surface water due to drought.
According to the state engineer, current Nevada water law bases water use on seniority.
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.
The order issued on Dec. 19 is designed to protect the basin from wells that could be drilled on about 8,000 undeveloped parcels.
Both of the bills before the Legislature died before being heard by the full body.
Under Senate Bill 271, domestic well owners would still be able to pump a half acre foot should the basin they’re in be subject to curtailment.
None of Nevada’s more than 230 hydrographic groundwater basins has ever been placed on curtailment that would affect domestic wells.
However, there are a handful of basins where there is the potential that more water is being pumped out of the aquifer than is being recharged, including Pahrump’s.
The State Engineer’s ability to curtail the use of domestic wells is being challenged at the Nevada Supreme Court.
Amargosa Valley resident John Bosta is challenging the 1939 state law based on the Treaty of Guadalupe in 1848, which he claims gives him priority for his water the state can’t take away.
In October, the high court dismissed Bosta’s claim, saying the 1939 Water Act determined groundwater belongs to the public. Even if the water act constituted an illegal taking, the supreme court determined that the lawsuit filed in 2015, was far in excess of the 15-year statute of limitations, assuming there was a well on Bosta’s property in 1939.