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Water Board Defies Legislative Policy In Important Water Study

Virgin Valley Water Board

Mesquite, Nv. Tonight, the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB) voted to spend $45,000 on a water study that violates Nevada water policy in an apparent act of legislative defiance. And they voted to ignore input from the City of Mesquite, which sets the water board’s primary water demand.

On June 9, 2017, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, R, signed into law Senate Bill 47 (NRS 533.024). That legislation required the State Water Engineer to prepare a “water budget” for groundwater and manage that water source “conjunctively” with surface water. According to King, conjunctively also includes effluent. The City of Mesquite manages effluent.

In 2019, Governor Steve Sisolak, D, signed into Law, SB150 requiring a county or city government to develop a water resource plan that contains an analysis of existing water demand in the community. Further, SB150 requires these branches of government to identify “all known sources of surface water, groundwater, and effluent that are physically and legally available for use in the community” and no longer rely on single-source studies like the perennial analysis.

SB150 does allow a local water district to conduct the planning for the community. Still, that requires at least an attempt at understanding actual water availability as defined by, in this case, the city and doing so in a manner approved by the legislature.

That is not what the VVWB wants to do.  Instead, they want to ignore relying on the Nevada Water Engineer to perform a conjunctive study (which includes a perennial analysis) and disregard input from the City of Mesquite. And give away $45,000 to Glorieta Geosciences (Glorieta) to:

  1. In phase 1, review literature and records reviews of previous perennial yield on the local basin 222 for $45,000, and,
  2. In phase 2, find a methodology to calculate a perennial yield and do other things on basin 222 at a future unidentified cost.

A literature review should be the responsibility of the Water District hydrologist, Aaron Bunker. Any sophomore college student can do a literature review. Indeed, at the meeting, the Board received a detailed source list of 42 studies on their Basin from 1969 to date that Bunker could review and republish as his own. And at no cost to the ratepayers.

Finding the perennial yield calculation is as simple as looking up formulas from the Desert Research Institute. [i] Or Bunker could review the 2010 United States Geological Survey (USGS) “Conceptual Model of the Great Basin Carbonate and Alluvial Aquifer Systems.’ The Model included Colorado System Virgin River Valley Subarea 222, which suggested that the Discharge from that Basin exceeded 5,000 AFA over the recharge.

Here is the real story. The VVWB wants to control the information that comes from a contractor rather than have objective information and studies performed by the legislated authority that would reveal two things:

  1. The VVWB is pumping water above the perennial yield on basin 222, and
  2. The VVWB is relying on certificates and permits to use water above what is available in Basin 222.

In 1969, Glancy and Van Denburgh for the Department of Interior-United States Geological Survey (USGS), published a water appraisal of the Lower Virgin River Valley (recon report 51).

Based upon that report, the Water Engineer for the Nevada Division of Water Resources set the system (all source) yield on Basin 222 at 100,000 Acre Feet Yearly (AFY). [ii]

On August 18, 1980, William J. Newman, the Nevada Water Engineer, designated Basin 222 (order 753) under NRS 534.110 as a critical management area in which groundwater continually exceeded the perennial yield of the Basin and closed it to further permitting.

On May 14, 2020, the paper water activity[iii] on Basin 222 exceeded the system yield by 94,527.29 Acre Feet Annually (AFA) over the Basin’s capacity.

On March 14, 2017, former Nevada Water Engineer Jason King addressed  Nevada’s legislative Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining. He said:

“It is the general policy of the State Engineer to limit groundwater withdrawals from a basin to the average annual recharge to the groundwater basin or its perennial yield.”

The Water Engineer set the underground perennial yield at 3,600 AFA.  On paper, [iv]the total perennial yield exceeds its authorized rate by 21,893.81 AFA. Of that, 20,159.48 AFA (92.08 %) reflects the activity of the VVWB.

The Water Engineer set the underground manner of use above the perennial yield at 12,547.95 AFY. That activity exceeds Basin 222s total manner of use by 12,945.86 AFA. Of that, 11,211.53 AFA (86.60 % is from the Virgin Valley Water District.

In 2010 the USGS issued the “Conceptual Model of the Great Basin Carbonate and Alluvial Aquifer Systems.’ The Model included Colorado System Virgin River Valley Subarea 222, which suggested that the Discharge from that Basin exceeded 5,000 AFA over the recharge.

In December 2011, during a Virgin Valley Water District Board of Directors meeting, then-President Karl Gustaveson called upon Forsgren Associations, Inc., to discuss an Integrated Water Resource Management Plan for Basin 222. The plan called for a coalition of all Basin stakeholders to determine how much water is available in the aquifer.

The Board coupled the Forsgren concept with a USGS proposal by then VVWB General Manager Ken Rock to perform a “Hydrologic Evaluation of the Lower Virgin River Basin (221, and 222), Clark and Lincoln Counties, Nevada, and Parts of Washington County Utah and Mohave County, Arizona.” Vote. The Lower Virgin River Basin is part of the Lower Colorado River Basin.

In 2012, Rock proposed an Integrated Water Resources Management Plan for Water Basin 222. The purpose: “to make sure we had affordable, reliable water for the future.” Virgin Valley Water Board members Sandra Ramaker and Karl Gustafson voted for the study. The majority turned it down.

In 2015 Former Nevada Water Engineer Jason King told a Desert Valley Times reporter when asked about the amount of water in the local aquifer, “I’m not sure how much water is in the aquifer now; I couldn’t even estimate how much is there.” In the same article, the District’s hydrologist said: “It would take extensive work to figure out how much water is in the aquifer.

On March 14, 2017,  King told Nevada’s legislative Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining that:  “It is the general policy of the State Engineer to limit groundwater withdrawals from a basin to the average annual recharge to the groundwater basin or its perennial yield.”

In response to a question about perennial yield included in reconnaissance reports, King 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.” On May 4, 2017, King addressed The Nevada Legislative Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, agriculture, and Mining, which was considering an improvement to water management in the state.  He said: “I think the conjunctive management Act supports the fact that Nevada should holistically manage and use all of its water resources: groundwater, surface water, and effluent. [v]

On July 25, 2017, Timber Weiss, a water resource specialist for the Nevada Department Division of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources, warned the Water Board that the perennial yield from local Basin 222 is only 3,600 Acre Feet Annually (AFA). The board ignored the warning.

Here is what they fear:

Lower White River Flow System

During tonight’s meeting, Bunker referred to a June 15 State Water Engineer order (1309), which lowered the Lower White River Flow System (LWRFS) [vi] from 30,630 AFA to 8,000 Acre Feet Annually (AFA) following their perennial yield study. The 8,000 AFA is slightly above the 7,100 AFA perennial yield of the LWRFS.

Increasing their concern, Bunker referred to October 7, 2020 (Order #1316 to determine the perennial Yield of Dry Valley located in Northern Nevada.

Following Bunker’s comments, Board member John Burrows asked if such studies might result in a reduction of water. Bunker did not know. Burrows motioned to approve spending $45,000 for their own Glorieta Geosciences (Glorieta) study. It passed five to zero.


[i] in 1969 George B. Maxey, for the Center for Water Resources, Desert Research Institute, outlined methodologies for Colorado river Desert Basin Hydrology studies.

[ii] Hydrographic Area 222 Summary, Virgin River Valley, Colorado River Basin.

[iii] Hydrological abstract 222.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Nevada’s legislative Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining (Pg. 16 of the testimony).

[vi] That order reduced water rights in the Kane Springs Valley 206, Coyote Springs Valley 210, Black Mountains Area 215, Garnet Valley 216, Hidden Valley 217, California Wash 218, Muddy River Springs Area 219.


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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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