By Pam Mulligan

Most of the discussion about water lease rates between Mesquite golf courses and the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) ended up being a conversation between VVWD Board member Rich Bowler and City Councilman Brian Wursten.

The discussion took place at the VVWD board meeting on Sep. 5 when Wursten presented an idea of a golf course cooperative that would bring five of the seven major golf courses together to solve water lease rates primarily for two courses that currently get the majority of their irrigation water from the district.

Wursten has been the most vocal about creating the co-op even though the two golf courses he manages, CasaBlanca and the Palms, would not be involved in any financial or managerial outcomes for the other courses. His attendance at the water board meeting was predicated on leading the co-op and not necessarily as a city councilman.

Representatives from the two mostly affected golf courses, Conestoga and Wolf Creek, were present at the meeting but had very little to say. The other golf courses affected by the potential co-op, Falcon Ridge, Oasis Palmer and Oasis Canyons, did not have representatives at the meeting. Those three golf courses get their irrigation water from a combination of private water shares and city affluent water.

So, the issues at hand really came down to how the irrigation water lease rates would be affected between Wolf Creek and Conestoga golf courses and the district.

While not presenting any specifics about how the co-op would be structured, Wursten said that the co-op’s two main goals were to set a lease rate equal to the city’s rate for affluent water and to sign long term agreements between the district and the golf courses. “A higher price [than the city’s rate] makes the co-op more difficult,” Wursten said.

“We can take care of the golf courses with affluent water four months of the year with no water from the district,” he said. “During the fringe months of October and April we can supplement with water from the district.”

Currently three golf courses pay $250 a share for irrigation water while Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) pays $1,256 a share for the same type of water: Conestoga, Wolf Creek, and the Palms. The equivalent amount of affluent water from the city is currently set at $608 a share.

While the Palms golf course has a lease with the district at $250 a water share, that is expected to end when the lease expires in 2019.

Wursten said of the 385 shares currently used by the golf courses about 200 shares could be returned to the water district because they are either not used or the city’s affluent water could be used instead. The district could then lease the water to SNWA at the higher rate.

John Schippert, representing Conestoga golf course, said “we all know there’s water going down the river unused.” Bowler said he would like Conestoga and Wolf Creek to return unused water shares to the district by December as “an act of good faith” that the courses would work with the district before the district makes too much of a commitment towards the co-op. “We tried to work with the golf courses three years ago to have them return unused water but it fell on deaf ears with them,” Bowler said. “There’s been hundreds of thousands of dollars of water running down the river that hasn’t benefitted anyone.”

Wursten said he wasn’t sure if the co-op would be a “true co-op” with a governing board or if individual golf courses would negotiate their own leases when the current ones expire in 2019. “It’s not completely ironed out yet. It will be a true co-op if we can come up with rates [from the district] that match the city’s rate. The ideal thing is to have a board of the golf courses that everything goes through,” he said. Wursten indicated that should the district charge a lease rate to the golf courses that equals what it receives from SNWA, the co-op would not be established.

“I am completely in favor of this co-op,” Bowler said. “I appreciate the work you’re doing. You answered my question of whether this would be a true co-op. It’s not. I appreciate the golf industry coming together and trying to work this out. Oasis golf course charges Conestoga golf course twice as much to wheel the water through as Conestoga is paying for the actual water. I’m here in good faith. To hold it over us and say that you’re not going to do anything unless we do something, to me, that’s kind of extortion.”

“It’s not meant to be extortion,” Wursten replied. “But no matter how you look at it, it’s going to have to change.”

Bowler challenged Wursten in his role as a city councilman asking what “the city’s skin in the game was. If the golf course industry is so important to the city why does that city charge the golf courses anything for the affluent water? I don’t think it’s the water district’s job to create economic growth.”

“There’s a certain amount of cost involved in treating and pumping the water,” Wursten said. “But it’s not practical.”

“For every subsidy, there’s someone who is subsidizing,” Bowler said to explain that lower lease rates to the golf courses would cause rates for typical homeowners and businesses to increase to make up for the lost income. “When we give the golf courses a favorable rate, that cuts down our revenues. While a lot of people live on golf courses, a lot of people don’t and that impacts them. We need to put that on the table and acknowledge that. We have to tell people ‘hey, your rate is a little higher because we’re selling to the golf courses at a better rate than we could get somewhere else.’”

No decision was made or vote taken by the board on the golf co-op proposal. It will be discussed more in future meetings.