Domestic well bill advances out of committee
A measure that would allow domestic well owners to use their wells in times of extreme drought passed through the Senate Natural Resources Committee last week.
Senate Bill 271 was amended on Thursday to permit residents to use half an acre-foot of water from their wells in instances where the basin they live in has been placed under curtailment by the State Engineer.
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.
There are roughly 4,000 domestic wells in Douglas County, and 40,000 across the state, according to a 2013 report prepared by the State Engineer’s Office.
In Nevada, each domestic well owner is limited to 2 acre-feet per year. However, that water must remain with the well and there is no separate water right associated with it.
Drilling a well requires only a permit, which the state engineer may deny if a basin is being overpumped.
Sen. Pete Goicoechea supported the bill, which would allow well owners to decide whether they wanted to use their half acre-foot for whatever they like, provided they allow their well to be metered. Otherwise, their use would be limited to indoors and watering pets and livestock.
Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said he still questions whether State Engineer Jason King has the authority to curtail use of domestic wells, but that if it’s determined he does, then the bill would protect well owners.
“This would only be in a basin where curtailment is ordered and has been upheld,” Goicoechea said. “I hope the domestic well owners realize this is for their protection.”
According to the State Engineer’s office, water use in a basin may be curtailed if it’s determined more water is being pumped than is being recharged.
Under current law, that means those with junior rights would be required to stop using water. More than a century of water law has upheld seniority as a means of determining priority of use for surface and underground water rights.
For domestic wells, the date of seniority is considered the date the well’s drilled, according to the state.
Nye County residents are challenging the state engineer’s right to regulate domestic wells at the Nevada Supreme Court.
Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said believes in seniority of water rights.
“Priority is priority,” he said at the April 6 hearing. “If someone has had their home for 100 years versus someone who just built their home two years ago, I tend to believe that priority does mean something.”