On Tuesday, January 22, The Mesquite City Council rejected a resolution offered by Councilwoman Sandra Ramaker to correct a historical misalignment in the membership of the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB).
If passed the 2019 Nevada legislature would have considered changing the VVWB from 2 Bunkerville members and 3 Mesquite residents to 1 Bunkerville resident and 4 Mesquite residents.
In 1993 the Mesquite Farmstead Water association and the Bunkerville Water Users Association merged to form the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD). Then they improperly agreed that the people and businesses of Mesquite would be represented by 3 individuals and Bunkerville by 2 people.
Presently, 93% of the population reside in Mesquite. Only 7% live in Bunkerville. All major businesses and top tier business rate payers reside in Mesquite. More than 80% of the usable water contributions to the formation of the water district come from Mesquite sources.
This is a classic issue of redistributing the wealth of the majority to help those in need. It only takes one in a 3 to 2 vote to change a worthwhile public goal into one where individuals socialize economic losses while privatizing their individual wealth. A little history makes the point.
During the first few years of its existence, Virgin River water shareholders dominated the VVWB. They redistributed $6.6 million of public money to Mesquite Irrigation Company (MIC) shareholders for 402 shares of river water used for irrigation. They gave-away $5.5 million for 148 shares of Bunkerville Irrigation Company (BIC) river water.
At current annual lease prices, it will take 31.7 years to recover the initial purchase from BIC and 55.82 years to recover the purchases MIC water. These numbers do not include interest and opportunity costs lost.
Today, as in the past, the two elected members from Bunkerville have familial connections to shareholders of river water. They can and do vote to raise the prices the board charged to Mesquite users of that water. In turn that sets a value that other shareholders can point to as “market value.”
Nevada ethics law is weak. Jedediah Bo Bingham, the Mesquite attorney for the water board, advised those with shareholder affinities that they can vote to benefit those individuals if they tell the public they are doing so. So, the public will hear: “My family has water shares, but I am going to vote on this issue anyway.”
Pricing water has other than ethical issues. On-one-hand, redistributing public money to shareholders has increased water board debt and to some degree limited infrastructure maintenance. On-the-other hand, increasing the prices of water beyond their value has caused the public to question those increases and the owners of the Wolf Creek Golf Course to legally question those practices.
Councilwoman Ramaker sat on the water board for six years. She knows the history. She knows the people. She knows the problems. Her resolution was an attempt to allow her co-councilmembers to accept their responsibility in water management by at a minimum ensuring that the people and business activities they represent are not disadvantaged. They failed.