After eight months of unsuccessful negotiations with a private property owner in Lincoln County, Virgin Valley Water District has voted to invoke eminent domain to secure a portion of the transmission right of way to connect its future Well 34 to the current water infrastructure it owns in Lincoln County.
Nevada Revised Statutes authorize a public body such as VVWD to take private land for purpose of water transmission if the private landowner is paid just compensation.
After a public hearing on Feb. 5, the district board voted unanimously 5-0 to impose eminent domain on Lincoln County land owner C&O Holdings to give the district access to a well site it has planned in Lincoln County for 10 years.
VVWD has water rights to draw water from the aquifer in Lincoln County, and currently operates Well 33 north of Mesquite. In December, the Bureau of Land Management approved a transmission right of way (ROW) across the BLM-managed land that lies between the VVWD well site and its tanks and arsenic plant situated in Lincoln County.
However, a large parcel of private land also lies between the well site and tanks. Development of its Lincoln County water rights are viewed as critically important to VVWD in supplying the Del Webb Sun City development with adequate water and system pressure.
VVWD supplies culinary water for the entire Virgin Valley, and as such, must plan many years in advance for population growth and expansion of water infrastructure. About 10 years ago, VVWD began the process of securing rights of way to drill a well, VVWD 34, in Lincoln County to provide water for City of Mesquite and other unincorporated areas in Clark County.
All rights to the well site have long been approved by the BLM, but the transmission corridor for the water line, along with underground power and telecommunication lines, maintenance access, and ingress/egress to the site was not included in that BLM approval.
During the public hearing that preceded the eminent domain vote, 16-year resident Sterling Holland questioned the use of that legal maneuver, concerned that such action might become a common practice in place of good faith negotiations by the district.
VVWD legal counsel Bo Bingham recounted VVWD’s prior attempts to buy the right of way, but the owner backed out at time of signing, after eight months of negotiation. He also stated that this was the first case he knew of VVWD using eminent domain action.
After all board members stated personal distaste for the need to use eminent domain, newly elected director John Burrows moved for the motion to invoke eminent domain to obtain the final segment of transmission right of way. The full board also voted 5-0 to accept a formal resolution that provides specifics for that action.
The board has hired appraiser Craig Morley of Morley & McCorkle LC to value the land for just compensation. The parcel of land in question is 30 feet wide, and about a half mile long. It follows a current road that has been partially developed through the area, minimizing the need to further disturb desert land. C & O Holdings did not attend the meeting, but sent a letter of objection that was read during the public hearing.
Wade Paulson, manager of the Lincoln County Water District, questioned whether it was possible to relocate the transmission route to allow future joining of LCWD rights of way with VVWD on the private property to reduce intrusion on landowner holdings.
In response, Bingham stated that the property owner had known the VVWD-requested ROW many months ago and did not dispute the intended route. C&O Holdings has been offered cash for the ROW, but declined cash, asking instead for water in return for the ROW. Because VVWD does not have the authority to serve customers in Lincoln County, the board has chosen to move for eminent domain to complete its transmission route.
VVWD maintains that a rerouting of its approved ROW with the BLM might require years of renegotiation that would delay delivery of water to Sun City. According to the resolution that was passed, the eminent domain process will begin immediately, along with plans for drilling Well 34.
The board approved hiring Campbell & Associates to design an addition to the district’s headquarters along with renovation of the existing building that was built in 1996. The current building has serious roof issues and is inadequate size to house staff. Campbell was the only one of eight invited companies to respond to VVWD’s request for bid. Their bid of $115,000 was accepted for design of the project that is budgeted for completion over two years. A new conference facility will be added, and the current customer service and office area will be redesigned at a total cost of about $1million.
In other actions, the board approved acceptance of low bid of $275,000 from Hydro Resources of Winnemucca to rehabilitate Well 31, located on the south side of Virgin River. It is the highest producing well in the system. The well pump failed last year and requires rehab to continue producing full volume of water. Rehabilitation is expected to begin in March. At this time Wells 27A, 31, and 33 are in production, with Well 1A scheduled to come online in March. VVWD has nine wells, with rehabilitation or re-drilling planned on several to meet district water needs. Hydro Resources has successfully contracted with VVWD on two previous projects.
District manager Kevin Brown noted that VVWD customers did not suffer water outage problems during the recent OPD5 power outage due to the two generators that maintain VVWD well production.
Holland, in the final comment period, complimented VVWD on its website, www.vvh2o.com, which contains current information on the eminent domain resolution, district finances, and other proceedings. He recommended greater publicity of the website to raise public awareness. Board president Nephi Julian asked staff to include information about the website in water bills and asked newspapers to inform their readers of the website.
VVWD meetings are regularly scheduled on the first and third Tuesday of each month. Agendas are publicly posted five days in advance at America First Credit Union building, Bank of Nevada building and at the district headquarters.