Mesquite, NV. Thursday, April 5, 2018
On Tuesday, Barbara Ellestad, Mesquite, resigned her position on the Virgin
Valley Water Board (VVWB).
Shortly after her resignation, as a reporter for the Mesquite Local News (MLN), Ellestad sent a request to the water district asking for correspondence between the Board and The Wolf Creek Golf course. The owners of Wolf Creek, through their attorney, had asked the board to consider rates lower than the $173.54 per acre foot annually (AFA) rate the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) pays for Mesquite Irrigation Company (MIC) and Bunkerville Irrigation Company (BIC) shares held by the water board.
The VVWB leases water shares to the golf courses for $34.82 per AFA. While on the VVWB Ellestad joined with board members Richard Bowler, and Nephi Julian, in trying to raise the rates to the SNWA rate.[i] Board member Ben Davis wants to charge 90% of that rate.[ii] Board member Travis Anderson recused himself from voting on share issues since his day-job with the City of Mesquite involve affluent water which competes with river water for irrigation. The water board argues that the SNWA rate is market value.
In 2008, the average cost of Nevada river irrigation water was $7.20 per Acre Foot Annually (AFA). [[iii]] In 2013 Off-Farm irrigation water prices equated to $13.60 in Nevada, $29.43 in Arizona and $45.59 in California. [[iv]] Between the establishment of the VVWB in 1993 to May 2010, the VVWB purchased water shares from MIC and BIC averaging between $1,97521 and $2,362.46 per AFA. [v]
Bowler’s family owns water shares, and Julian’s sister is married to a shareholder.[vi] It is their position that if they do not vote specifically on a share held by a relative they can vote on share issues. In practice, their relatives benefit directly from any vote to price the value of shares.
For every acre foot of highly polluted river water, the SNWA acquires they subtract an equal amount of water from their underground allotment. Underground water is far more valuable to the SNWA than river water which they “clean” and dumps back into Lake Meade. Essentially, the SNWA is pricing highly polluted river water at the same value as more valuable potable underground water.
To their credit, Wolf Creek and other local golf courses were willing to pay a higher rate and even turn back some unused shares to the board to lease to SNWA. However, at least Wolf Creek wanted a compromised rate to rise over time and a perpetual agreement for water availability in perpetuity as currently guaranteed in their current contract with the VVWB.
VVWB attorney, Bo Bingham told the Wolf Creek Attorney that because water in Nevada is public water, it could not be guaranteed in perpetuity. Bingham did not address the question of why MIC and BIC shareholder water originally acquired nearly 100-years ago is arguably considered “in perpetuity,” for the life of original shareholder descendants.
During the last session of the Nevada Legislature, the Committee on Natural Resources considered a Bill to allow appeals of water rates of five percent or more imposed by the Moapa Valley Water District and the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD). Before acting on the bill, Yvanna D. Canela, D, NV. 10, Chairperson of the Committee required discussions between proponents and the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB).
When the VVWB address the issue publicly, Bowler said: “I will never vote for outside oversight.” “Voters are our oversight,” he said. Ellestad, as she generally did, agreed with Bowler.
Canela withdraws the bill under pressure from Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick (D) who also chairs the Board of Directors for the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA).
Ellestad’s’ “journalist” career raised doubts about her ability to serve the public as a political actor on the VVWB. During her position on the board, she wrote articles about water and the board indirectly. Otherwise, she influenced the writing of MLN reporters covering the board.
Leaving the water board and potentially continuing her writing for the MLN is best for her and the community. The real question is how she will bend her reporting and in favor of whom.
[i] The rates if based upon a price of $1,246. Per share for Mesquite Irrigation Company (MIC) and Bunkerville Irrigation Company (BIC) water shares with one share equal to 7.18 Acre Feet Annually.
[ii] McGreer, Michael M. “Water Board Push Golf Course Owners to The Financial Edge, March 23, 2018, at: https://goo.gl/9xisnf
[iii] Average Purchased Water Cost ($ Per Acre-Foot) for Farms Using Off-Farm Surface Water, by Farm Size and State, for 2008 Irrigated Farms at: https://goo.gl/DFpzUR
[iv] U.S Department of Agriculture, Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey at: https://goo.gl/jzQHLN
[v] The difference depends on how much water, measured in Acre Feet Annually, is in a share of water held by the Mesquite Irrigation Company (MIC) or the Bunkerville Irrigation Company (BIC).
[vi] NRS 281A.020(1) A public officer or employee must commit himself or herself to avoid conflicts between the private interests of the public officer or employee and those of the public whom the public officer or employee serves.” interests of another person, to mean a commitment, interest or relationship of a public officer or employee:
- To their spouse or domestic partner;
- To a member of their household who are related by blood, adoption, marriage or domestic partnership;
- To a family member or in-law related by blood, adoption, marriage;
- Or domestic partnership within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity; (affinity, as distinguished from consanguinity (blood relationship), is the kinship relationship that is created or exists between two or more people because of someone’s marriage);
- To a person with whom the public officer or employee has a
- Substantial and continuing business relationship; or
- to anyone with whom the public officer or employee has any other
- commitment, interest or relationship that is substantially like a
- commitment, interest or relationship described above.
If recent history is any indicator, Ellestad will “slant: all of her writing to the favor of the “Good Old Boy families” (you know the names). There was a time long ago when Ellestad was somewhat objective and railed against the control of everything in the area by these founding family members but sometime around 2011 she flipped over and inexplicably began being their biggest cheerleader as they wielded their power to keep the playing fields heavily tilted toward themselves and their minions. As a side note to remember…..when the good old boys on the VVWD were paying fortunes to buy filthy near-unusable river water for record prices, slick old Cresent Hardy took over $2 Million from them (us) for some of his non-potable water shares.