Election winner John Burrows, left, pictured with VVWD manager Kevin Brown and VVWD board vice president Ben Davis. Burrows will be sworn as a board member on January 15. Photo by Linda Faas

With board president Nephi Julien and board member Rich Bowler absent, vice president Ben Davis guided the remaining quorum of the Virgin Valley Water District board through a short list of actionable items in their Dec. 18 meeting.

The significant item on the agenda was review of a proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Virgin Valley Water District and the Las Vegas office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The MOU had been pending over a year, following formation of Gold Butte National Monument by Presidential Proclamation during the last month of President Obama’s term.

VVWD holds historic water rights within the boundaries of the declared national monument. At the time of the proclamation, VVWD hoped the area encompassing their water rights would be excluded from the monument. In event that might not occur, VVWD submitted to Senator Harry Reid’s office very specific verbiage the board wished to have included in a monument proclamation. Their goal was to avoid differing interpretation of rights by future management of a national monument that might infringe on the district’s access to water sources granted under Nevada State water law.

The requested verbiage was revamped in the final proclamation, leaving the district concerned of its future access to its spring water sources.    Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited Nevada during his inspection tour of several newly created national monuments, VVWD requested redrawing of the monument border. In his evaluation report, Zinke recommended reducing Gold Butte National Monument to exclude VVWD’s water sites, but that recommendation was never officially acted upon.  Thus, VVWD requested that the Bureau of Land Management enter into a memorandum of understanding that would clarify VVWD’s historic rights to perpetuity.

During the past year, several iterations of the memorandum document have been drafted, consuming considerable time and effort by VVWD district manager Kevin Brown, hydrologist Aaron Bunker, and counsel Bo Bingham who worked with Gayle Marrs Smith and the BLM field office staff in Las Vegas.

With Marrs Smith’s pending retirement from the BLM, completion of the pending MOU was given higher priority, and both parties put full effort into drafting the document that was presented to the VVWD board for consideration on December 18.  Brown, in presenting this document to the board, commented that he felt it was “executable and agreeable” to both parties, and recommended its acceptance.

The MOU, in part, states, “The parties agree to maintain [this agreement] into the future, [ ] regardless of personnel, administrative or programmatic changes in BLM.  Nothing herein and nothing associated with the implementation of the herein provisions shall preclude the District from accessing, developing, pumping, maintaining, constructing appurtenances, or conveying water or water rights within or from the subject area to the District’s service area.”  The MOU goes on to state that this understanding will be codified in appropriate monument resource management plans and implementation plans.

Board member Travis Anderson agreed, “This is the best we can get. This is a good document.”

Davis voiced appreciation to both the BLM and VVWD staff for their work. He noted that,  “If I had my druthers, the water sources would be outside the monument,” but he went on to say the final MOU encompassed VVWD’s major objectives and was “a good job.” The board  voted unanimously 3-0 to accept the MOU as presented.

Reporting on other water resources issues,  Brown and Bunker attended the recent Colorado River Conference meeting in Las Vegas where the states in the southern district of the Colorado River Basin discussed the future of river water resources. A year ago each state in the district has been directed to formulate a plan for drought contingencies. All states except California and Arizona, the two biggest river water users, have completed their plans. Those states were clearly put on notice by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman that if their plans were not completed by the Jan. 31 deadline, the Bureau of Reclamation would take over allocating river water as it sees fit in time of emergency.

Brown explained that the controversy over Colorado River water does not directly impact Virgin Valley water resources because the Virgin River joins the Colorado River downstream from VVWD’s boundaries, and VVWD does not draw water from the Colorado River.

Staff recommended hiring of engineering firm Bowen, Collins & Associates (BC&A) for design, bidding and construction management of Wells 26A and 34, two wells that have been previously approved for drilling.   VVWD has attempted to hire its own inhouse engineer over the past six months but has been unsuccessful in doing so, making it necessary to contract outside engineering.  Davis questioned staff on the no-bid recommendation of BC&A, but agreed to the contract when staff outlined successful past work the firm has done for the district.  The board by a 3-0 vote unanimously approved Anderson’s motion to hire BC&A at a contract cost of $86,000.  Actual cost of drilling and developing the two wells is divided into two phases. Each well will eventually cost about $2million apiece to bring online, with Phase 1 drilling of the wells, $1million per well, budgeted in this fiscal year.

The other financial item of the evening was a potential amendment to the recent agreement with Glorieta Geoscience Inc., adding $1,100 to their contract. This would cover additional cost associated with reporting their findings in siting at least three future wells. The initial contract was approved at the December 4 meeting, providing $61,400 to the geohydrological firm for completion of a written report.  That initial contract did not cover travel costs for a live report presentation to the board, which the board requested.  The survey will take about six months to complete.

The final board action of the evening was presentation of a service plaque to exiting board member Randy Laub. Laub was chosen by the board to fill the board vacancy left when Barbara Ellestad resigned in the spring of 2018. Her resignation came a few days after close of the filing period for the 2018 election, so Laub was not eligible to stand for election to serve past the end of the year. Along with the plaque, Davis also presented Laub with a jar of pickles, a gag gift representing the fact that Laub joined the board when it was “in a pickle” of finding a short term member. Replacing Laub on the board on Jan. 15 is John Burrows, winner of the November 2018 election.