VVWD awards Flat Top water tank contract

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After a second round of bidding for construction of a replacement water tank at the base of Flat Top Mesa, the Virgin Valley Water District awarded the job to low bidder Paso Robles Construction at its Oct. 3 meeting. Paso Robles’ bid of $1.59 million beat out JNJ Construction, the only other responsive bidder.

Three contenders in a first round of bidding had been declared nonresponsive due to incomplete or late bid submissions. Board members in their 5-0 vote, reiterated the necessity of moving forward to bring the new tank online by April 2018 before the next peak water usage season. The new tank replaces the current tank that is deteriorating at an accelerated rate and was incorrectly sited, causing a decreased volume of water to be stored in the Airport Tank across town.

Hinton Burdick presented its annual financial audit of VVWD, complimenting VVWD financial officer Wes Smith for his fine accounting work. Their audit found no material mistakes in the district’s accounting for FY 2017, which ended this past June 30. Smith and the district renegotiated loans that saved $62,000 interest, made good progress on debt retirement, and followed overall sound financial practices. The board, voicing additional praise of Smith, voted unanimously 5-0 to accept the audit.

Hydrologist Aaron Bunker provided information on the State Water Engineer’s July 24 request for prompt reply concerning VVWD’s intentions for its groundwater (GW) rights applications on file in the State Engineer’s office. VVWD holds 33 permitted ground water rights within the Virgin River Valley Basin 222, allowing the district to use up to 12,271 acre-feet of water per year (afy). A water right application is a request to the State Engineer to divert and beneficially use water. VVWD provides all of the culinary water supply for the district from its Basin 222 water wells, and currently actually supplies about 6,500 afy to the district’s water users.

Over the years, VVWD has gained ownership of a total of 93 GW and three surface water rights applications, either through filing them directly, inheriting them from predecessors, or through negotiated agreements with Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) that supplies water to Las Vegas.

As a counter measure to a 1989 filing by SNWA for unappropriated GW rights throughout southeastern and central Nevada, VVWD filed multiple GW rights applications that brought its water rights potential total to 185,340 afy, actually oversubscribing the Basin’s capacity, and far exceeding VVWD’s foreseen need for water.

The State Engineer’s office is trying to “clean up the books” in basins where applications far outnumber additional available water, and has demanded that VVWD state which applications, of its total of 96, it actually intends to pursue, along with actions it has taken to move toward beneficial use of its permitted water rights.

VVWD had not fully clarified its intentions for all its GW rights applications, in large part due to lack of an interstate compact on Basin 222, which serves Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. VVWD maintains that the cost of a comprehensive basin study should be paid by the state governments and USGS, and is not the responsibility of VVWD.

Bunker drafted a reply to the State Engineer’s office that requested VVWD maintain and pursue its 15 original senior GW applications that produce 65,000 afy. His draft recommended VVWD withdraw its 81other applications, which total 120,000 afy. Bunker’s extensive letter outlined VVWD’s past and current actions to measure and manage its water rights to accommodate future growth within the VVWD service area.

However, relating an Oct. 3 discussion with the BLM on right of way (ROW) access to VVWD water prompted Bunker to revise his original recommendation on relinquishing all 81 applications because some are sited within the Gold Butte National Monument. His revised recommendation was of keen interest to VVWD board members.

The 2016 monument declaration guarantees VVWD access to “current water rights” within monument boundaries. VVWD maintains that language is open to interpretation and the board has requested that monument boundaries be adjusted southward to exclude VVWD water sources. The board directed Bunker to redraft his letter to request retaining any of the 81 applications that fall within Gold Butte National Monument.

Bunker and district manager Kevin Brown have been in protracted discussions with the BLM concerning ROW access to several VVWD water sites. Mesquite city councilman Dave Ballweg previously asked for an update on progress of those discussions which started in 2013. His request, made as a private citizen, not as a city official, brought to light the length of time that can pass in developing resources for the district.

“This is not an overnight process,” he stated, affirming his skepticism of the viewpoint that the monument designation will provide greater protection and ease of action for VVWD interests. Board member Rich Bowler noted that BLM’s three-year delay on ROW requests was impacted by the now-settled issue of a communications tower VVWD erected at one of its well sites without BLM approval.

The board authorized staff to proceed with formulating a proposal to raise VVWD Standard Development Charge (SDC) for new construction in the district to $2500 in 2019, with 3 percent increases in years thereafter. The current charge for contractors is $2150 per unit. That charge has not increased in 20 years and is far below district costs incurred for infrastructure serving new customers. The board must hold public hearings on increasing SDC rates before any final board action.

VVWD hopes to institute the SDC increase and a 2 percent meter increase in one hearing process to reduce administrative and legal costs of any rate hike. Board member Barbara Ellestad pointed out that while she is deeply opposed to any steep increase that imposes hardship on rate payers, the SDC charge impacts new development, not current users. Financial officer Smith verified that a 2 percent rate increase raises monthly costs for the average homeowner by about 50 cents, but concedes that major business owners will see a significant dollar amount increase, and there is some overlap among metered users and developers.

Responding to board request for information on city waste water effluent production and golf course billings for that water, Brown obtained 2014-2017 records from the city. Two local golf courses that pay monthly fees for effluent are Oasis and Falcon Ridge. Those billings show the city charges well over twice the cost for effluent than VVWD’s current rate of $250 per irrigation water share per year paid by some local courses. (See MLN 9/05/17 and 9/19/17)

Contracts leasing VVWD water shares to Wolf Creek and Conestoga golf courses expire in 2019. Recent VVWD water lease rates negotiated with SNWA have pegged rates at $1,256, prompting vigorous discussion of future local water share rates. Ellestad noted earlier in the meeting that Conestoga golf course is listed for sale. Bowler also noted that board requests to Wolf Creek and Conestoga to return unused shares they lease have gone unanswered. If returned, those shares could be leased to SNWA for district financial gain and golf course cost reduction in 2018. No action is pending on a water share rate increase this year.

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