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Nevada Today

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Colorado RiverNews and informationOn The Water FrontSouthern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA)Virgin RiverVirgin River Water DistrictVirgin Valley Water Board (VVWB)

Profiteering Supersedes Public Trust For Water Board

“We think prior appropriations should supersede the public trust doctrine.” – Bo Bingham, Virgin Valley Water District Attorney.

Mesquite, NV. On August 6th, the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB) raised the lease rate of Bunkerville Irrigation Company (BIC) irrigation water held by the Board and leased to Bunker Farms from its original $250 per share to $1,357 per share.

This increase in price is consistent with the historical practice of the board to put tens of millions of dollars into the hands of Virgin River water shareholders who obtained free river water appropriations from the ancestors to irrigate their free land. This practice artificially inflates the price of irrigation water, which then distorts its actual value to the consumer and ignores the public’s right to water while avoiding any consideration of Nevada’s public trust doctrine.

This board thinks that a historical permit to use the water nullifies any consideration that: “All sources of water within the boundaries of the state, above and below ground, belong to the public (Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 533.025 and 534.020).

They think that the public trust principal that “that certain natural and cultural resources are preserved for public use, and that the government owns and must protect and maintain these resources for the public’s use,” does not apply if it interferes with profit making.

It is not a theoretical argument. In 1927 Virgin River water shares were decreed to those who settled the Mesquite-Bunkerville area for agriculture. To date, their descendants, and a few others have earned a total of $70,158,488.85 ($57,998,817.99 + $12,159,670.86) for fallowing their land and sitting back and watching the water flow freely down the river while their bank accounts grow.

Brian D. Haviland, and Robert Bunker, dba Bunker Farms agreed to pay the increase rate since doing so allows them to sustain higher values for their historical BIC shares they individually hold or for those they manage for other BIC shareholders.

Since 2009, Bunker and Haviland have earned $3,096466.89 by fallowing their ancestor’s farmland and leasing their BIC water shares to the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA). Also, Roger M. Bunker, dba R & R Water Rights, LLC received another $3,536,729.22 in BIC water right leases to SNWA in return for fallowing their land. And the Bunker Family Trust received $20,326.03 in leases to SNWA again in return for fallowing irrigated land.  That amounts to $6,653,522.14 that the SNWA has provided the Bunker-Haviland folks for not irrigating their land.

And, Robert Bunker and Haviland, along with area residents Derek Hafen and Duane Magoon manage BIC. In that role, they picked up another $735,868.75 from SNWA for BIC shareholders.

These transactions are only a portion of the pricing monopoly practices engaged in by the water board and other Virgin River shareholders. The VVWB gifted $12,159,670.86 to various MIC and BIC shareholders by purchasing their Virgin River shares between 1992 and 2010 ostensibly to someday clean and use as potable water. Even if needed, it would cost millions to clean for potable use, and the results would be half of what is processed. The effort would not be cost effective under any circumstances.

From 2005 to date, SNWA has paid out $57,998,817.99 to various shareholders of BIC and the Mesquite Irrigation Company (MIC) for fallowing their land and allowing their historical irrigation shares of Virgin River to flow freely into Lake Mead. In return, SNWA takes a credit that adds more water potable water to serve their growing Las Vegas Metropolitan community.

The lawyers in the lawsuit brought by the owners of the Wolf Creek Golf Club (A-18-774539-B) against the VVWD are arguing over the market value of Virgin River irrigation water and the ability of the water board to arbitrary and capriciously set water rates.

Those holding Virgin River shares contend that they have an absolute right to set the market rate and for their water shares. It does not matter that the water is no longer used for its original purpose. Nor does it matter that they add no value to its delivery to Lake Mead. They simply watch the river water flow and check their bank accounts for payment checks.

The entire idea that water has actual market value is disputed. Water is not a market commodity. Water is essential to life and the economic wellbeing of a community. Water is not an economic good that follows supply and demand, like other products where people have choices. You cannot substitute gasoline or nitrite acid for water.

It bears repeating, that the true cost of irrigation water is 1) the cost to deliver and 2) the maintain the infrastructure. The VVWD does not maintain or develop any infrastructure for the delivery of irrigation water. If there are costs to the water district, they are the marginal bookkeeping costs to collect unearned lease funds. The entire infrastructure costs are born by the user.

Shunning the public’s right to low-cost water, and ignoring the public trust doctrine to put tens of millions of public dollars into the hands of shareholder profiteers strikes at the very essence of what it means to be a socially conscious elected public official.

See the five part series: VVWB Irrigation Water Pricing 

Here is a list of those receiving payments from SNWA:



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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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