Kevin Brown, the manager of the Virgin River Water District (VVWD), Mesquite, NV., and Aaron Bunker, the non-certified hydrologist for the VVWD attended the Colorado River Water Users Conference held December 12-14 in Las Vegas.
According to Linda Faas, reporting for the Mesquite Local News (MLN), Brown told the water board on December 18th that: “the controversy over Colorado River water does not directly impact Virgin Valley water resources because the Virgin River joins the Colorado River downstream from VVWD’s boundaries, and VVWD does not draw water from the Colorado River.”
The Colorado River, and its tributaries flow from above Granby, Colorado through six other states through Mexico and ending into the Gulf of California.
The Virgin River, is a tributary of the Colorado River. It cuts through Utah, Nevada, and Arizona ending at or near Lake Mead and as the VVWD map shows, flows right through their boundaries.
Over the years VVW board has spent $12,159,670.86 for 550 shares (4,992 Acre Feet Annually (AFA)) of Virgin River (Colorado River) Water shares held by members of the Mesquite Irrigation Company (MIC) and the Bunkerville Irrigation Company (BIC).
They lease that water to local golf courses and other irrigators and to the SNWA for considerable profits. Indeed, their pricing of leased Virgin River water has sparked a civil action by the owners of Paradise Canyon, operators of the Wolf Creek Golf Course, against the Water Board.
This is not the first time Brown has been out of sorts with officials and reports. On July 25, 2017, Timber Weiss, a water resource specialist for the Nevada Department Division of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources, asked the VVWB to clarify their position on outstanding groundwater applications. Weiss reminded the Board of the perennial yield (underground water) of Basin 222 [the local basin] which is set at 3,600 Acre Feet Annually (AFA). (The perennial yield was set in 1968 by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). On September 18, 2017, Brown replied to Weiss and among things contested the Perennial yield.
Editors note: The VVWB knowingly pumps 6,608 AFA or 3,008 AFA more groundwater from the Basin than the yield allows to meet a demand essentially set by the Mesquite City Council through their permitting process. Also, the VVWB has developed wells with a reliable yield of 13,742.82 AFA. That is 10,142.82 AFA more than the underground yield. Responding to Weiss, Brown and the Water Board proposed to the State Water Engineer to develop the 15 other underground wells near the Halfway-Wash entrance to the Virgin River. If approved, that action would exceed the perennial yield by 75,301.47 AFA (10,142.82+65,158.65). That is about 21 times the 3,600 AFA perennial yield
On March 4, 2017, Jason King, the Nevada State Water Engineer, testified before Nevada’s legislative Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining. In response to a question about perennial yield [i] based on reconnaissance reports, he said: “. . . Based on reconnaissance reports that the United States Geological Survey (USGS) performed in the 1950s, 1960s, and I believe most of them were done in the 1970s. I would tell you that although they are old, we found them, by and large, to be very good and to be accurate.”
He continued: “We have many of those basins throughout the state where we have real live pump tests over time where we can see that those recon reports, for the most part, are good estimates of how much water is there. We have had some busts that have been identified, and we have updated many of those estimates over the past 20 years. We are always looking to update them with the latest and greatest science. I still believe that those old reports provide great value to us.” (Pg. 16 of the testimony).
The Colorado River and its tributaries are managed and operated by the Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation (BoR) under numerous compacts, federal laws, court decisions, and decrees, contracts, and regulatory guidelines collectively known as “The Law of the River.” [[i]]
The primary compact, The Colorado River Compact, was signed in 1922. The Compact allocated water rights to the river’s waters. Nevada’s share amounted to 300,000 Acre Feet Annually (AFA).
As Andrew Davey pointed out in a recent Nevada-today article: Officials from the federal government and seven states met to discuss the future of the Colorado River. Davey and I both heard Brenda Burman, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commission, warn everyone that if all drought contingency plans are not submitted by January 31, 2019, the federal government will prepare to potentially mandate cuts in 2020.
The original plan was for the states to unveil an unprecedented set of Drought Contingency Plans (DCP’s) to adapt to continually dropping Colorado River levels. But due to protracted negotiations within California and Arizona, that isn’t happening.
During the conference Davey interviewed Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) General Manager John Entsminger, about Nevada’s DCP. Unlike Arizona and California, Nevada has already approved its DCP.
Editor’s Note: The SNWA Drought Plan was first developed in 2002 and adopted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority Board of Directors in February 2003. The plan outlines the SNWA approach to meeting customer demands during shortage conditions. In 2009, the plan was incorporated as a new chapter in the SNWA Water Resource Plan.
Entsminger told Davey that: “For Nevada, that contingency plan requires us to leave more water at the lake at certain levels. It also gives us more tools to bring water into the lake and take it out when we need it.”
Davey asked “And how exactly will Nevada make this work? For Entsminger, it makes sense to “stay water smart.” As Entsminger put it, “Our community has done a fantastic job with conservation. As a result, we have extra water to leave at the lake. This deal will allow us to leave water in the lake for future use.”
“When you live in the driest state in the union, everything is on the table […], But again, if we can take care of the conservation, we’re not going to need to worry about new sources of water for decades to come,” Entsminger told Davey.
Davey points out that “As SNWA officials have noted, Nevada is only allotted 300,000 acre-feet of Colorado River (in our case, Lake Mead) water annually. Depending on whether all seven states can agree upon a new set of DCP’s, or whether the federal government intervenes should certain states fail to do so, that annual allotment may drop as low as 270,000 acre-feet. Yet thus far, SNWA’s ongoing conservation programs have successfully held Nevada’s Colorado River use to about 248,000 acre-feet.”
On June 9, 2017, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed Senate Bill 47, which declared it a state policy to manage Nevada’s surface and groundwater resources conjunctively, and not as a separate source. The Bill also required the State Water Engineer to prepare a reliable “water budget” inventory of groundwater in each of Nevada’s 256 water basins. Conjunctive water includes effluent.
The Colorado River and the Virgin River Valley remain in a drought condition. The 2019 Nevada legislative session is outlining plans to manage all water sources conjunctively.
The lack of knowledge about the public waters that the Virgin Valley Water Board and their top employees allegedly manage portends economic disaster for the communities they serve.
To avoid such disaster, The Bureau of Reclamation, in collaboration with the Nevada Water Engineer, will audit water availability, enforce statutory compliance on water laws, insist on compliance with state and federal drought contingency plans, and mitigate, manage, and monitor who does what to whom in the Virgin Valley.
[i] “Bureau of Reclamation: Lower Colorado Region – Law of the River”. United States Bureau of Reclamation. 2005-03-21.