Regional Water Players To Gather Over Limited Resource

By VERNON ROBISON

Moapa Valley Progress

Overton will be the host to a gathering next week that may have lasting effects on the future of water policy in the area for generations to come.

Nevada State Engineer Jason King has set an initial public workshop for Tuesday, July 24 beginning at 9:00 am in the Overton Community Center. Specifically invited to the meeting are all holders of groundwater rights in the area known as the Lower White River Flow System (LWRFS), a vast region spanning Moapa Valley, Hidden Valley, Coyote Springs, Garnet Valley, Black Mountains area and the California Wash.

The purpose of the meeting is to discuss King’s concerns that the LWRFS may be over-allocated in its water rights.

At the heart of the issue is the long-delayed development at Coyote Springs, a master-planned community proposed about 17 miles west of the Warm Springs area at the junction of State Highway 168 and US Highway 93. This huge project, which was once touted to become twice the size of Summerlin, has been largely on hold since the real estate crash of 2007.

But over the past few years the development has begun to show signs of a revival. Coyote Springs Investment (CSI), the project’s owner, has reportedly spent more than $200 million on utility infrastructure, flood control, roads and an 18 hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course which opened in 2008. The project has only recently reached the point where it was ready to submit subdivision maps for approval.

But King, Nevada’s top water regulator, fears that there is not enough water there to support the project. King told CSI that he cannot justify the approval of the maps “unless other water sources are identified for development.”

He further warned that pumping existing water rights at Coyote Springs could seriously impact the series of natural springs that form the headwaters of the Muddy River and the sole habitat for the Moapa dace, a finger-size fish protected by the Endangered Species Act.

In response to this, CSI filed suit in district court in Las Vegas on June 8 seeking to overturn the decision.
CSI officials did not respond to calls seeking comment on the ongoing legal issue.
Kings concerns were based on a two-year test pump conducted by regional water purveyor Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) between 2010 and 2012.

The purpose of the test was to see if a large volume of water could be safely withdrawn from the aquifer without impacting the Muddy River or the dace. During the test, a total of 5,300 acre feet per year (afy) was pumped from wells at Coyote Springs. a cumulative total of 10,200 afa was pumped from the entire LWRFS during that period.

An acre foot of water is considered roughly enough to supply the needs of one Moapa Valley residential household for a year.

The test results showed that the pump caused an “unprecedented decline in groundwater levels and flows” in Pederson and Pederson East springs, two high-altitude springs at the Warm Springs headwater to the Muddy River. These two springs were considered the early warning indicators for the overall condition of the Muddy.

According to a notice sent out by the State Engineer’s office, study participants concluded from this that pumping at the test pump levels “could result in both of the high-altitude springs going dry in three years or less.”

The trouble is that there currently exists more than 50,000 afy of groundwater appropriations in the LWFS, some dating as far back as 1919. That is what has led King to the conclusion that the system is over-appropriated.

The notice states that the State Engineer believes that “only a small portion of the permitted water rights in the LWRFS may be fully developed without negatively affecting the endangered Moapa dace and its habitat or the senior decreed rights on the Muddy River.”

Some of those senior rights belong to the Moapa Valley Water District (MVWD). Joe Davis, MVWD General Manager, said that he welcomes the chance for open discussion between all interested parties on the matter.
“Given the reality of the situation and the limited resource that is there, why would the State Engineer just approve a huge community that doesn’t even exist yet, at the expense of a community that is already here and using the water,” Davis said. “It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Davis said that the State Engineer’s action is fully in keeping with a complex water agreement forged in 2006 between MVWD and numerous other parties including SNWA and CSI.

In that agreement, MVWD had pledged to stop diverting water from its most senior Warm Springs resource at Jones Springs and allow that water to flow through the dace habitat. In return CSI and SNWA had agreed to be the ones to curtail pumping at Coyote Springs, if the spring levels reached certain established triggers. The benefit was that MVWD would not be required to cut back on pumping if those trigger levels were reached.
“The other parties saw the huge significance in what we were giving up for the dace at Jones Springs,” Davis said. “That is why they were willing to have to take the haircut if it was needed and we would be left whole.”

Davis acknowledged that there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the 2006 agreement, especially in respect to the district’s treatment of Jones Springs. But given these current developments, the agreement has left MVWD in a very good long term position going in to the upcoming discussions, Davis said.

This is the case even though the district is currently sitting on a healthy surplus of water resources due to the loss of its biggest industrial customer: Reid Gardner Power Station.
“We have a much better standing, given the wording of the agreement, than we would have otherwise,” Davis said.

Davis admitted, however, that the community needs to seek out another large commercial water user and/or see some significant residential development in order to stave off a series of rate increases that loom on the horizon for MVWD ratepayers. But the district is poised to take advantage of those kinds of opportunities, he added.

“We have a thriving community and the capability to have a healthy growth rate with the water portfolio that we have,” Davis said. “But we need to put those resources to use. It is important for people to understand that we do need some growth to continue to stay viable as a community.”

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