Link Browder of The Furman Group, the Virgin Valley Water District’s Washington lobbyist, addressed the board at its Sept. 18 meeting outlining the schedule for the Sept. 19, trip to Washington, D.C.
Board president Karl Gustaveson, board member Kenyon Leavitt and district general manager Ken Rock will be accompanying Browder to Washington to meet with members of the Nevada Congressional Delegation and others.
The meetings are to discuss language for protecting the district’s access to its existing facilities adjacent to or in the vicinity of Gold Butte should it fall under a designation for national protection.
“Thank you all for making the time to come out to Washington,” Browder said. “I think it’s very important that the elected officials hear directly from you guys not just having me going in advocating on your behalf. I know it is a considerable effort and expense to be out there but I really think it makes a difference. It really demonstrates the importance of this issue to the district.”
The scheduled meetings include time with both Sens. Harry Reid and Dean Heller and Congressman Joe Heck, who represents the Mesquite area. They will also meet with Congressman Mark Amode, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources committee where this legislation will be heard.
The VVWD group also is to meet with Otto Mucklo, who, according to Browder is the staff director of the Energy and Natural Resources Works Parks and Public Lands Division where the legislation will be drafted.
“We want to be sure he is onboard with what we want to do,” he added. He explained they would not be meeting with Shelley Berkley because she does not represent the Mesquite area and is not on any of the committees hearing the issue.
Browder provided a copy of draft language which he had already presented to the committee staff.
“It would allow you, in perpetuity, to develop water rights in the NCA portion of the Gold Butte designation, not the wilderness. This would be down on the alluvial fan where you already have wells.” He explained it would give them flexibility to do future work and develop wells in those areas.
The rain gauges which are located on the mountain tops are near the proposed boundaries and would fall under the proposed wilderness designation. Browder proposed working with the congressional delegation to get the boundaries moved slightly to remove the locations from the designated wilderness and open up access points to the gauges.
He further indicated that the ideas were well received and no one wanted to curtail their ability to develop water in the future. He stressed, however, that it was necessary to have clear language in the legislation to protect the district.
As for timing, he said he doubted any action would occur during the “lame duck” session and the issue would be addressed next year. When asked what the district could do if the president was not re-elected and declared the area a monument. Browder said they could try to have similar language included in such a designation – stressing the importance of their upcoming meetings. He went on to say that again, he doubted that any such action would occur.
The board also met with three U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) representatives and Jason King, the Nevada State Engineer and two of his staff to continue studying Basin 222. In a May 24, 2012, meeting the board decided not to fund a study without support from neighboring states. The board did, however, direct staff to continue talks with the USGS to define potential costs and with the state engineer to make contact with adjacent states.
In response, members of the USGS staff lead by Michael Moran, Supervisory Hydrologist, USGS Pacific Southwest Area, presented a short overview of existing studies for the basin. He noted that the studies undertaken between 1969 and 2011 were conducted using a number of different methods and models. They had a wide range of water values ranging from 3,600 acre feet per year (afy) to 85,000 afy and defining a specific value for the basin was difficult.
Moran and his staff then went on to explain the methods and timing of their proposed study and provided the board with a cost estimate. The study, which would take a total of five years (6 fiscal years for the VVWD) would cost approximately $972,554, half of which would be paid for with government grants.
VVWD accountant Wes Smith provided an analysis that showed the yearly cost would represent approximately 1.5 percent of the district’s annual water revenue. Since revenue was not expected to increase, the cost would have to come out of the district’s estimated $6.9 million reserves.
King also reiterated his previous comments that his office would not be approving any additional water rights in Basin 222 except for very small allocations due to the lack of credible data available for the basin. Mesquite presently has an allocation of 12,000 afy and presently utilizes approximately 6,000 afy.
When asked if Utah could move water from its portion of Basin 222 to St. George, King explained that it would take a bi-state agreement to do so. That would require negotiations over the amount of water in the basin and approvals on what could be removed.
The board response echoed previous meetings where board members expressed their thoughts that the other states involved should help underwrite the study. Or that the study should not be undertaken at all without tri-state participation. They also directed their Browder to look into potential options for additional monies which could be applied to the project since they didn’t want to apply rate-payers money to the project at this time.
In other business, the board approved a contract with Vista Del Monte Community Association for the care of VVWD’s water tank located in Vista Del Monte in exchange for allowing decorative logo to be painted on it. The vote was four to one with Rick Bowler against.
Other business included a report by Ken Rock and district hydrologist Aaron Bunker on a 10-inch water main which was exposed along the I-15 on ramp at mile marker 122. The district can protect the pipe but is talking with other stakeholders to see if the repairs costs can be shared.