Gold Butte was again a topic for discussion at the Dec. 1 Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) board of directors meeting.  At issue was an agenda item for consideration of the district adopting an official position statement on Gold Butte becoming a National Conservation Area (NCA) or a National Monument through executive action by President Obama.

Lincoln County Water District general manager Wade Paulson cautions board about dealing with the federal government on water rights in National Conservation Areas. Photo by Burton Weast.

Lincoln County Water District general manager Wade Paulson cautions board about dealing with the federal government on water rights in National Conservation Areas. Photo by Burton Weast.

Director Rich Bowler asked for the issue to be put before the board.  “I thought we had done this in the past, but looking at the minutes I see we haven’t,” said Bowler.  He said his personal position on Gold Butte wasn’t important, “My concern is our access, and I appreciate all the work that has been done on both sides.  I think this we need to make this a bipartisan issue and come together on whether or not the access is going to be there.      I would like a position from the board saying we are not opposed or supportive of Gold Butte, we are concerned about our ability to access our water rights,” said Bowler.

Chair Nephi Julien agreed, saying personal positions are not important.  “If we have an official board policy it should be that we neither agree or disagree with the NCA but to make sure we have access to our resources.”

The other directors agreed that the district wanted to protect the water rights of the district.

In public comment, Bryon George who serves as the board president of Friends of Gold Butte said that he was speaking as a private ratepayer.  “First of all, I would like to thank you very much for putting this on the agenda and considering it, I think it is important the water board protect their water source for future growth and sustain the businesses and the people here.”  George said that if you read the bill introduced by Senator Harry Reid, Senate Bill 199 “Water resources are protected.”  George urged district staff to “step up” and send information to Senator Reid for inclusion in the bill and “affirm you support for the NCA.”

Mesquite resident Ann Sexton told the board she supported designation of Gold Butte.  “I would appreciate the board make sure that any draft of the NCA proposal all the wording you would like,” said Sexton.

Wade Paulson, general manager of the Lincoln County Water District told the board of his experiences working with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the federal government on water issues.  “I would just give a word of caution, the federal government does not follow through with their promises, it doesn’t matter what they say in a letter or anything they will change their minds.”

Paulson went on to say that Senator Reid “Does not have transparency.”  Paulson recited how Reid and the federal government failed to hold a single hearing or meeting with elected officials before taking 704,000 acres were taken from Lincoln County.  “To some that may not seem much but it was a huge stab in the back to Lincoln County,” said Paulson.  “At the time they said all of the roads would continue and be grandfathered in and within two years the BLM came in and started closing all of the access to roads in the wilderness area, contrary to what was written in the law.”  Paulson emphasized that the bureaucrats will interpret what the management plan for the area will say.  “You need to be careful,” said Paulson.

Paulson said his district had water rights in the area made a national monument, but because BLM refused access to the water sources they could not be developed.  “We can develop the water all we want, we just don’t have any place to put it,” said Paulson.

Jaina Moan, the executive director of Friends of Gold Butte told the board “I really believe and on behalf of the board of Friends of Gold Butte, that we all really believe it is the best thing.  We support the businesses of Mesquite we support development in Mesquite and protecting Gold Butte would support that.”

Moan said that “Regardless of what has happened in other counties, there are a lot of success stories out there.”  She encouraged the board to review those stories.  Moan mentioned the positive economic impact of national parks for the area such as Zion.

Moan encouraged the board to become active in the process and “state what your interests are,” as the bill has hearings.  “The legislation has many areas in it where it states that water rights will be protected,” Moan said.

Other members of the public testified both for and against the board supporting the designation of Gold Butte as an NCA.  However, there was agreement that the district should be active in protecting their access to their water rights in the area.

Resident Mike McGreer also asked the board if they had consulted with BLM and the Department of Justice on whether or not they had safe access to the area with the dispute with the Bundy family continuing.  Manager Kevin Brown responded that staff was meeting on a regular basis with BLM and was well aware of the safety concerns.

After board discussion, Director Rich Brown suggested that a committee of knowledgeable citizens be put together to work on providing information Senator Reid and others and to get the water district issues “on the table.”  Bowler asked that at a future meeting appointing a local group to work on behalf of district issues.  The board agreed.