What started as a stand-off between Virgin Valley Water District Board director Barbara Ellestad and Quincy Edwards of Conestoga Golf Course ended in Ellestad’s motion to craft an agreement that would renegotiate Conestoga’s water share contract that runs through 2019. This last-ditch effort during the Dec. 19 meeting to reach agreement, was passed 3-0, with directors Rich Bowler and Travis Anderson absent.

Terms of the agreement need to be signed by Dec. 31 to return 50 to 65 unused water shares of the 150 shares Conestoga currently leases from VVWD. The action would allow the district to lease those shares to Southern Nevada Water Authority in 2018 and beyond. SNWA leases water from VVWD at a rate of $1246 per share, roughly five times the price Conestoga now pays VVWD for irrigation water at $250 a share. The district has sought return of unused shares since 2014, both for the potential revenue it can provide, and because the district is obligated by Nevada state law to show “beneficial use” of all water it controls.

The proposal would reduce Conestoga’s yearly lease rate by roughly $16,000. They have paid VVWD $37,500 a year for water since 2011, in spite of contracting for water the course did not use. Conestoga, in turn, would receive VVWD assurance guaranteeing adequate water for its year-around irrigation needs, and VVWD would “reel back” water shares from SNWA if any of the relinquished water was needed for operation of the course.

The new agreement would allow Conestoga to assign its water share contract to another party if the golf course were sold during the remainder of the 2019 contract period. The golf course is currently for sale, and guarantee of water is critical to its marketability.

With water district attorney Bo Bingham intervening to encourage both sides to agree on principle, keep their objectives in mind and move past some very contentious “old anger” issues held by both parties, the board worked out terms for Edwards to take back to his owners. The negotiated deal does not include resolution of a parallel dispute between Wolf Creek Golf Course and VVWD.

The agreement will not determine long-term rates for irrigation water shares. Both courses have leased irrigation water at $250 per share since 2011. Both courses have used only part of the shares they lease, while paying for the entire volume of water. Each water share holds a volume of 7.18 acre feet of water, equivalent to 325,851 gallons of water per share.

Unused water and the future water share rates have been the crux of dispute, as VVWD wants to maximize its revenue and show beneficial use of its water holdings. The lease price paid by SNWA has been a concern for local renters, who contend that a similar rate for them would be onerous and damaging to their businesses.

Edwards objected to being characterized as uncooperative in relinquishing water shares. He maintains that prior water management encouraged Conestoga to lease the volume of water contained in 150 shares, and the exact gallons measured in a local water share was not made clear until recently.

Public records indicate the two golf courses use VVWD irrigation water ahead of higher-cost, city-provided effluent water, a potential breach of their 2011 VVWD contracts and city effluent water contracts.

Edwards disputed VVWD’s assumptions of Conestoga’s misdeed in that regard. A letter dated Nov. 9, from city public works manager Bill Tanner to Edwards stated that availability of effluent to Conestoga was “problematic” because the course was fifth in line for use of city effluent, behind Wolf Creek, where the golf course has not installed infrastructure to use up to one million gallons of effluent it is contractually entitled to use.

Tanner’s letter said that the city is now looking to dispose of 300,000-500,000 gallons of effluent a day and is opening discussion with Conestoga for an approved disposal site that has infrastructure in place.

Edwards voiced his amicable relationship with VVWD staff and his desire to clear Conestoga’s reputation as a strong community partner with Mesquite and the water district.

Board moves forward to charge increased rates in 2018

The board held a public hearing required before enacting rate increases for both metered water users and system development charges (SDC) for builders seeking to add users to the VVWD water system. No public comments were voiced during the hearing.

Thus the board will move forward in charging 1 percent higher rate for VVWD water users in April 2018 for the remainder of FY2018, and an additional 1 per cent increase starting July 1, 2018 for FY2019. Two additional increases of .20 per cent will be added in FY2020 and FY2021.

Much of the rate increase for average water users will be offset by a partial reduction of the $10 debt service surcharge that users have paid for the past several years. The SDC will increase from $2,120 to $2,500 per permitted unit in FY2019, the first such increase levied in 20 years, with 3 percent increases in the next three years.

General manager Kevin Brown and hydrologist Aaron Bunker reported to the board concerning a meeting held with the BLM on Dec. 14. Prior to that meeting they had participated in a conference call on October 4 that raised serious concerns about the district’s ability to access its protected water rights to springs located in the Gold Butte National Monument. In the Dec. 14 meeting with Las Vegas BLM District Manager Gayle Mars Smith and other BLM officials, the BLM offered to write a draft memo between BLM and VVWD that would outline the current intent to allow access, so that future personnel would have a clear view of VVWD needs and past promises by monument crafters. Such a memo should help VVWD to secure rights of way (ROW) to build roads and water infrastructure on monument land.

Board members inquired as to its role in the final approval of such a memo. Brown assured that VVWD would have oversight in the memo. Board members Ben Davis and Ellestad urged that the current application on file with the BLM since 2012 not be withdrawn until assurances are received of the successful acceptance of future ROW applications. These points have been a concern since the presidential proclamation creating Gold Butte Nation in December, 2016, did not contain specific language requested by VVWD that would have guaranteed its ROW.

Wade Poulsen, manager of Lincoln County Water District, recounted his experiences of participating in the Basin and Range National Monument management scoping process in the past year. Poulsen continues to remain skeptical of the scoping outcome results because statements on LCWD water access are at a standstill, so access to its water rights is still unclear.

Friends of Gold Butte director Jaina Moen urged that VVWD and others make comment in the BLM drafting of a revised draft resource management plan for the area, including Gold Butte. A hearing on that subject will be held in Mesquite at 5 p.m., Jan. 10, at City Council chambers. Public comments will be accepted by BLM until Feb 2.