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Resolution to Cut Bunkerville, Increase Mesquite Representation on Water Board Before City Council on Tuesday.

At 5.p.m. Tuesday the Mesquite, NV City Council will vote on a resolution to reduce the membership of the Virgin River Water District (VVWD).

On May 10, 1993, the Nevada legislature formed the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD) by merging the Mesquite Farmstead Water association and the Bunkerville Water Users Association. If passed the members of the 2019 Nevada legislature will be asked to change the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB) from 2 Bunkerville members and 3 Mesquite residents to 1 Bunkerville resident and 4 Mesquite residents. The current statute allows such a change.

Nephi Julian Bunkerville member, center. Mesquite member, Travis Anderson right and Randy Laub, left.. Photo by Andrew Davey.

On the surface, this resolution may seem to be much to do about nothing. City Councilmen George Rapson and Brian Wursten have both stated that the City should not be involved in water issues.  That was the job of the water board. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Brian Wursten, right and George Rapson

There are dozens of ordinances, county regulations, and state and federal laws that require the city council to make water related decisions not the least of which is a 2017 legislative mandate required a conjunctive study of all source of water including city managed effluent.

Presently Mesquite members of the VVWB, the Mayor and Councilmen Rapson and Wursten ignore that the VVWD is pumping nearly twice the 3,600 Acre Foot Annually (AFA) perennial yield [i] of underground water. The VVWD can pump nearly four times the perennial yield and they say they will pump 6 times the perennial yield in the future. All VVWB members know about these overdrafts as has all past Council members and at least three members of the current City Council.

Water demand from VVWD 2017 Master Plan

In 1990, the total population of the Mesquite and Bunkerville was 2,793.  Of that total 2,046 (73%) resided in Mesquite.  Bunkerville had a 1990 population of 750 (27%).

VVWD manager, Kevin Brown left, board attorney Bo Bingham, center and Bunkerville member, Richard Bowler left. Photo by Andrew Davey

In 2017 the total population had grown to 19,844.  Of that total 18,541 (93.43%) resided in Mesquite.  Approximately 1,303 (6.57%) resided in Bunkerville.  None of the Mesquite members of the VVWB nor the Mayor nor the City Council have, until now, considered this disparity in population and by default Mesquite rate payer spending as a reason to change the membership ratio on the VVWB.

Look at the VVWB 2017 Master Plan. The VVWB think that population growth drives water supply. That is absurd.

Population growth projected by VVWB in their 2017 Master Plan.

Even a rudimentary understanding of economics suggests that it is water in an arid desert that limits economic growth.

When formed in 1993, “All assets of the Bunkerville Water User’s Association, including, but not limited to, water rights, transferred to the newly created VVWD. Those water certifications and permits included ground, spring, and Virgin River surface water.

At that time, those forming the VVWD reported a total water share division of 64% Mesquite and 36% Bunkerville. From that, they decided that the 5-member board should include 2 from Bunkerville and 3 from Bunkerville.

Origin of water allocations at time VVWD was formed

There are problems with their math. To inflate their contributions, members of the Bunkerville Water Users Association added about 2,204.63 of permits (not certifications) they held from Nickel creek to the total. The actual number of certified spring water held by the Bunkerville water Users Association was 192.36 Acre Feet Annually not 2,396.99 AFA as they reported.

When Nickel creek is excluded, the actual water split is 76.33 % Mesquite and 23.67% for Bunkerville.

Correct allocations

Regardless of the math, none of the spring water has been developed. In 2010 the VVWB conducted a study to determine if spring and other sources of water could be used to develop a reservoir.  The study was rejected for three critical reasons: 1) questions about spring water availability, 2) costs and 3) a desire to acquire Virgin River water from area shareholders.

It only took one Mesquite VVWB member to concur with the Bunkerville two and inflate the water contribution.  No city council member ever objected to the inflated numbers.

Over the years, at least one member of the VVWB from Mesquite has voted with Bunkerville members to enriched Bunkerville Irrigation Company ((BIC) water share owners. Mesquite members went along in purchasing 1,149.54 AFA[ii] of BIC water paying shareholders a total of $5,546,518.29. That averages to $2,880.61 per AFA. However, these averages are somewhat skewed since the amount paid to Bunkerville water shareholders per AFA went from a low of $706.51 in April 1996, to a high of $10,997.44 in April 2010.  No Council member questioned the deal.

More recently, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) paid the VVWD between $153.84 and $193.41 per AFA for BIC pre-1929 water shares.  In October 2017, the SNWA valued post 1929 BIC water they held jointly with BIC [iii] at between $75 and $79.57 an AFA.  No matter how you look at it, $2,880.54 per AFA is a long way from between $154.84 to $193.41 for pre-1929 BIC water. Even further from between $75 and $79.57 for post-1929 BIC water.

When it comes to physical assets, Bunkerville had three wells (1,2 and 29) with an average static water level [iv]of 11.6 feet at an average depth of 141 feet. A depth of 141 feet is deep enough to produce 3.5 to 4 gallons per minute (gpm) to supply 600 gallons in two hours to serve a traditional home.

Bunkerville’s Well No. 1 was inactive for several years and required re-drilling another well (1A) to yield 1,050 gallons per minute (gpm).

Well No. 2, had an original static water level of about 10 feet when obtained.  It required work to develop 400 gpm.  However, wells 1 and 2 cannot operate simultaneously.

Well, 29 had an original static level of about 10 feet and required work to generate 500 gpm. Regardless, all three wells only produce 19% of the total of 10,250 gpm estimated peak production capacity.

VVWD pump projections from 2017 Master Plan

Present or past members of the VVWB, including some from Mesquite, are expected to attend the Tuesday meeting and argue that the resolution is a conspiracy by the Paradise Canyon owners of the Wolf Creek golf course to change the ratio.  For those unfamiliar with the issue, the owners are suing the water board arguing that their price setting policies are arbitrary and capricious and violate contracting law.

This is not a conspiracy.  When originally formed, a member of the City Council and one from Bunkerville were appointed to the board. That later changed to all elected members. Former Mesquite Mayor Susan Holecheck raised the disparity issue approximately 11-years ago. Further, revamping of the VVWB membership to a 4:1 was presented to the  the 2017 legislative session. Supporters were advised to obtain City Council support and bring it to the 2019 legislative session.

Each time the issue comes up, some residents of Bunkerville threaten to take their water from the District.  That is nonsense.  The water allocated in the merger was legislatively transferred, and certifications and permits were adjusted by the Nevada State Water Engineer from the Bunkerville Water Association to the VVWD.

Whether measured in water, physical assets, population ratio, or the redistribution of rate payer funds to Bunkerville water shareholders, the City Council and individuals from Mesquite serving on the VVWB must serve Mesquite residents in a 4 to 1 ratio as the numbers support.


[i] Perennial yield is the maximum amount of groundwater that can be salvaged each year over the long term without depleting the groundwater reservoir.”

[ii] Based upon 7.82 Acre Feet of Water per share.

[iii] System Conservation Implementation Agreement (SCIA) between the United States Bureau of Reclamation and The Southern Nevada Water Authority to implement a pilot system Conservation Program (Pilot Program). dated 7, October 2016 at:

[iv] The static water level of a well is the amount of water under normal conditions, while at rest.

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About Author

Michael McGreer Mesquite, Nevada
Dr. Michael Manford McGreer is managing editor of and writes on issues that impact public policy.

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