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Nevada Today

Nevada Today is a nonpartisan, independently owned and operated site dedicated to providing up-to-date news and smart analysis on the issues that impact Nevada's communities and businesses.

Colorado RiverEditorialsOn The Water FrontOpinionsSouthern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA)Virgin RiverVirgin Valley Water Board (VVWB)

Water Boards Push Golf Course Owners To The Financial Edge

Clark County (NV.) Golf’s top officials identified scarce and expensive water as their biggest threat.

That golf industry in Clark County depends on the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA)  Board of Directors  and the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB) to serve the Las Vegas Metropolitan area and the smaller communities of Mesquite and Bunkerville respectively.

Nearly 90 percent of water controlled by the SNWA comes from Lake Mead with streams flowing into the lake from the Virgin and Muddy Rivers. The remaining 10 percent comes from wells drilled into deep underground aquifers. [[i]]

Nearly 77% of water in the area served by the VVWB comes from underground wells. The remaining 23% flows from the Virgin River.

All these water sources are shrinking. [[ii]] The shrinkage of Lake Mead has forced SNWA to impose stringent conservation regulations and non-compliance penalties on the Las Vegas area’s four dozen golf courses.

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]]

The VVWB leases highly polluted Virgin River water to golf courses for $34.82 per Acre Foot Annually (AFA).  VVWB members Barbara Ellestad, Richard Bowler, and Nephi Julian, want to raise the rates to $173.54 per AFA Board member Ben Davis wants to charge 90% of that rate.

Lease rates are only part of what golf course owners pay to water their courses.  There are pumps, pipes, and various other devices and products required to water golf courses.

Golf facilities in the Southwest spend approximately $107,800 per year for an average 18-hole golf course. [[v]]

John Pollok, director of maintenance for Las Vegas Valley’s Spanish Trail ’s, came to Las Vegas in 2008 from a golf course in Los Angeles. In L.A., Pollok’s annual water bill was $250,000. At Spanish Trail, it’s six times as high. [[vi]]

Angel Park Golf Club, a 45-hole public facility about five miles north of Spanish Trail, removed 76 acres of grass and replaced much of the turf on its driving range with pinkish, pea-size gravel, turned off a fountain and eliminated three lakes to reduce their water bill. [[vii]]

Long-time golfers to any of the eight Mesquite Golf Courses have noticed fairways narrowing and giving way to desert scape. They hear golf course owners expressing concerns about the rising costs of water and the supporting infrastructure while questing decisions made by the SNWA and VVWB.

During a May 2016 meeting of the VVWB, board member Robert (Bubba) Smith in a rare outburst said: “No, we are not lying (about water and finances), we are just not giving them (the public) all the information. We are not going to tell you the whole story.” He mocked.  “Anytime someone tries to deceive people it is lying.” He said.

“Every backdoor meeting closed-door meeting they (staff) are conspiring against you.,” Smith said. “They are talking about how to give it to you,” he said. They will continue to do this.  It is your (the public) job to protect you from them. And that is the truth”, he added.  Smith left the community for Texas and a new job.[amazon_link asins=’B007G7HBA2′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’nevadatoday-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’4e63bc1c-2ed9-11e8-8434-97ff449e7eaf’]

[i] 2017, Water Quality Report, Las Vegas Valley Water District, 2017 at:

[ii] McGreer, Michael M. “Lake Mead shortfall as soon as 2019,” at:

[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:

[iv] U.S Department of Agriculture, Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey at:

[v] Lyman, Gregory T., “How Much Water Does Golf Use and Where Does It Come From? at:

[vi] Owen, David, “Drying Out, America’s courses are cursing their addition to water,” Golf Digest, at:

[vii] Ibid.

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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.

Comments (1)

  1. A Note to the VVWB. YOU are NOT a profit making business entity whose mission is to maximize profits for shareholders. You are a public utility whose mission is to serve the citizens and businesses in your service area by determining what the best policies are to assist them in achieving the most essential long term goals. That most essential long term goal is to be able to provide a safe and reliable source of water for the needs of the community you serve, a community that includes individual users as well as the businesses that provide jobs and economic stability for the area. The BUSINESSES in YOUR SERVICE AREA include Golf courses, Casinos, the hotel industry and all of the other employers and service providers IN YOUR SERVICE AREA. Notice how I DO NOT include any businesses or other users in Las Vegas or in any other area that is outside of your service area. You do not have and responsibility to provide water to anyone outside of your service area. The idea that you think you should increase the water rates on your local businesses and citizens so that you can provide water to Las Vegas for a higher rate is entirely outside of your area of responsibility.
    You are also not in the business of selling your product for the highest price you can get! You are a utility charged with providing for the needs of those in YOUR service area. Your continual efforts to sell water that is needed in your service area to entities outside of your area shows a fundamental misunderstanding of your obligations as a public service provider!

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