In a marathon meeting, the Virgin Valley Water District discussed assertions by a board member and a Mesquite resident that the District faced a water shortage. The meeting on Oct. 20, was the result of Director Sandra Ramaker asking for two issues to be placed on the board agenda and Mesquite resident Mike McGreer asking for time on the agenda to re-visit studies of springs as a potential water source.
Director Ramaker last week had addressed the Mesquite City Council as a private citizen and questioned whether there was adequate water for potential development of Exit 118. Ramaker also submitted an email request to VVWD District Manager Kevin Brown stating reasons for reconsideration of an earlier board decision to fund a study of springs located in the area of the Virgin Mountains being considered for National Monument designation.
In public comments, Byron George of Friends of Gold Butte told that board that his group favored VVWD access to the area. “We know it is important for VVWD to have access to Gold Butte,” said George.
Before discussing the requests from Director Ramaker and McGreer, Board Chair Nephi Julien asked District Hydrologist Aaron Bunker to review the water situation in the district. Bunker provided a detailed report on the status of water resources in the district, including water rights and status of the aquifer in Basin 222, which provides the majority of the district water supplies.
Bunker noted, “Since 2000, the actual water use per EDU (Equivalent Dwelling Unit) has gone down.” Reasons for the decrease were water conservation by residents and businesses according to Bunker. He also told the board “As is stated in the 2012 Master Plan, the district has adequate water supplies until 2050.”
In response to questions, Bunker outlined the studies done on Basin 222, all of which indicate the area as an excellent water source for the district. “The recharge rate for the wells in the basin are stable, indicating we are not drawing down on basin,” said Bunker.
Director Rich Bowler then reviewed the email memo sent by Ramaker and questioned several of the statements. Ramaker stated in the email that the recently authorized study of springs did not include all the springs the district had water rights on and said that “The VVWB (Virgin Valley Water District Board) does not know how much water is actually available to us, now and in the future.”
The email also asserted that the contract for the study should have gone out to public bid and that the proposal “suggests an unintentional violation of bidding laws.”
Bowler corrected Ramaker saying that the study did include all the springs and that the contract for the study was for less than $50,000 which is the amount required by state law to go to public bid.
The issue of a study for Basin 222 was discussed at length. Director Barbara Ellestad noted that at the 2012 meeting where a majority of the then board voted not to do a study of the basin the issue was the lack of participation by the states of Arizona and Utah. “Both states declined to participate and would not abide by it anyway, as it would be a study by a dinky water district.” Chair Julien asked staff what such as study would cost. Bunker responded “About $1,000,000 dollars.” General Manager Brown added that there would also be costs for installing infrastructure to measure flows, probably costing the district an additional $1,000,000.
Ellestad read a newspaper article from June 2015 that quoted State Engineer Jason King saying “despite the ongoing drought throughout the west Mesquite is in outstanding shape and going strong. The Virgin Basin is in very good shape.”
Director Bubba Smith told the board he did not believe “Arizona and Utah would ever cooperate on a study unless the feds told them too.” Smith added “We just have to do the best job we can for the citizens of the valley.”
The board then moved to the agenda item requested by Ramaker for the board to reconsider the decision to study the springs as a potential water source. Director Ramaker said “I really believe we need to reconsider this. I voted for this but I really don’t believe it is necessary.” Ramaker noted the board in February decided not to do the study, and that she was concerned it would turn into a large cost for the district.
At the end of the discussion, Mesquite resident Mike McGreer urged the board “Do a cost benefit analysis of using the springs and update the 2012 Master Plan.”
Director Smith said “I was one of those who was opposed to the study.” He added that he was now convinced to do the study as a way to “get our foot in the door” when the area is designated by the federal government. Smith also said that the study is a way “to get a cost benefit analysis.”
Ramaker moved to reconsider but there was no second and the motion died.
In other business the board approved the changes to Ordinance II that were allowed by the passage of SB 271 by the legislature. Under the new conditions the district will contact those who received “will serve” letters but have not used them. The letters will need to be renewed in the future and an annual fee paid for maintaining the letters. The district anticipates that a majority of the will serve letters will be rescinded freeing up water for other users.
The board also decided not to renew the federal lobbying contract with Patton Boggs which was costing the district $20,000 per year. The district shares the contract with the City of Mesquite. Staff was directed to notify the City of their action.
SUMMARY OF 2012 VVWD MASTER PLAN UPDATE
In June 2009, VVWD adopted a Master Plan for the District. In 2012 the Master plan was updated. Both the plan and the update were done by Bowen, Collins and Associates of St. George.
The purpose of the Master Plan is to calibrate the water distribution system, evaluate source water treatment and storage capabilities, identify supply requirements for future conditions and identify existing and future operating deficiencies.
The Master Plan also identifies capital improvements needed for current and future conditions.
Summary of Master Plan Conclusions
–Between 2011and 2020 the population of the Mesquite service area will increase 2.3 percent on an annual basis, for a total of 25,339 residents.
–Water use varies by time of day and time of year, with most water use occurring during the summer months. Highest water usage months are May through Oct.
–About 49 percent of water usage is indoors, and 51 percent is used outdoors, primarily for irrigation.
–Residences use about 47 percent of total water supply, while casinos and multifamily housing use about 10 percent each. Golf courses consume about 4 percent of total water used.
–The district relies heavily on three of the eight wells in the system. Wells 27, 31 and 33 produce about 70 percent of the average annual production.
–The plan estimates that “…adequate usable yield is available to meet projected average day production requirement through 2050.”
–The district will have sufficient water supplies through 2050 without increasing conservation efforts. However, the report states that due to uncertainly in growth forecasting, the district should encourage conservation.
–The plan recommends that in order to reliably satisfy projected peak demands (high water use periods) the district should add new supply through storage in the following intervals: 2014, 2021, 2032 and 2043.
–The report recommends that a 20-inch line and a storage tank be installed to meet future growth demands in the Pulte Homes area. Also, the report identifies several other system improvements necessary to serve additional growth.
–Finally, the Master Plan recommends several actions including rate review, new development review to avoid pressure issues, beginning site evaluations for new wells and installing a system wide monitoring network.