Members of the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB),[i] the Districts manager, Kevin Brown and their Hydrologist Aaron Bunker think that population growth drives water supply. They are dangerously wrong.
According to Bunker the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD), is in a good position” (when it comes to water). It is not.
On Aug 2, 2018, Bunker told Mesquite, NV. Local News (MLN) reporter Linda Fass about plans to drill future wells and a water tank along Mesquite Heights Road. According to Bunker, they are needed to provide water capacity and provide adequate pressure for new development north of I-15 in Mesquite.
Bunker is pushing the VVW Boards (VVWB) philosophy that population growth drives the supply of water. In other words, build it, and water will magically appear. The facts tell a different story.
Bunker points out that the VVWD draws about half (6,449 Acre Feet Annually (AFA) (52%) of the 12,271.170 AFA of underground water from Basin 222 allocated by the Nevada State Water Engineer.
He ignores facts about the perennial yield ([ii]). The yield for Basin 222, the primary source of underground water for the local population, was set by the Nevada Water Engineer in 1968 at 3,600 AFA. The VVWB is more than twice (1.79) the amount of water officially allowed from the aquifer. Of course, if they developed wells to take the remaining 5,888.17 AFA (12,271.170 – 6,449), they would be taking more than 3 times (3.4) the perennial yield of water supported by the basin. They want to go even further.
On September 18, 2017, Brown told Timber Weiss, a water resource specialist for the Nevada Division of Water Resources, that the VVWB wants to develop 15 applications equal to 65,158.65 AFA of underground water. That would raise the total to 77,429.82 AFA of underground water or 21.5 times the perennial yield. A query to Weiss about the status of that request went unanswered.
Let’s ignore the hundreds of millions in capital outlay, operating and personnel expenses needed to fully develop those wells and think about water availability.
I already mentioned that the VVWD is ignoring the official yield. They are also ignoring scientific studies and decisions by the Nevada State Water Engineer. The latest (2010) scientific study by the U.S. Geological Survey on basin 222, shows total ground water recharge of 34,000 AFA and discharge of 39,000. That is 5,000 AFA short. Further, the scientists found that the recharge might be as low as 3,200-16,000 AFA. ([iii]) Admittedly, the potential error rate in this study is high, but it still requires attention.
Those who pay attention to water supply recognize that a draught currently exists across southern Nevada. Don’t bother calling upon the Mayor of Mesquite, the Mesquite City Council or the VVWB to help. Those elected officials consistently refuse to study water issues.
The problem is compounded by real estate developers pushing more housing, business executives wishing to industrialize the community with natural gas and wide-spread ignorance about the hydrology of the area and the geophysical environment in which it exists.
Recently Nevada Water Engineer Jason King blocked constructions of 160 homes on 43,000 acres Coyote Springs, a project located 54 miles north-west of Mesquite. Coyote Springs is one of several basins in The Muddy Creek Formation (MCF). In 2014, King rejected several applications for groundwater rights on the MCF. Included were applications for water in the Coyote Spring Valley (Hydrographic Basin 13-210), Garnet Valley (13-216), Hidden Valley (13-217), California Wash (13-218), and Muddy River Springs Area (13-219), and the northwestern portion of Black Mountains Area (13-215)
Bunker who is not a certified hydrologist told Fass that “VVWD underground sources are separate from the aquifers that serve Moapa Valley and Coyote Springs, where new development. He should have taken a few minutes to study a VVWB sanctioned study by Dixon and Katzer issued in 2002. [iv]
Dixon and Katzer (2002), point out that the two main aquifer systems providing underground water for the VVWD are: The Muddy Creek Formation and the underlying carbonate rock. Within this broad area are numerous high-yielding wells that have been constructed in the Muddy Creek Formation. Additionally, this area includes the wells located near the Virgin River floodplain but are deep enough (~700 feet) to intercept rising carbonate water.[v]
According to Dixon and Katzer extensive ground-water pumping from the Muddy Creek Formation will cause ground-water levels to decline near pumping wells. Depending on the density and placement of wells, recovery could be rapid. Depending on the amount of ground-water withdrawals, there could be a general lowering of the entire ground-water table near the greatest density of wells.
The most significant finding for Dixon, Katzer 2002) was the deformation of the Muddy Creek Formation that revealed the existence of heretofore suspected and unsuspected fault/fracture zones that are prime targets for ground-water development and control the movement of ground water throughout the system.[vi]
It is past time for the community demand that the Nevada State Water Engineer requires the VVWB to fund a scientifically, peer reviewed all source water study and establish a water budget. [vii]
A water budget would set the supply of water (perennial yield) as the limit to population demands. That would eliminate once and for all the silly argument that population growth drives water supply.
[i] Nephi Julien, and Richard Bowler, Bunkerville, NV. Ben Davis, Travis Anderson and Randy Laub, Mesquite, NV
[ii] Perennial yields are the amount of groundwater that can be withdrawn from a groundwater basin over a period without exceeding the long-term recharge of the basin or unreasonably affecting the basin’s physical and chemical integrity.
[iii] Conceptual model for The Great Basin Carbonate and Alluvial Aquifer System,
2010, scientific Investigations Report 2010-5193
[iv] Dixon, Gary L., Katzer, Terry, “Geology and Hydrology of the Lower Virgin River Valley in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, prepared for the Virgin Valley water District, Report VVWD-01, 2002.
[vii] Water budgets are tools that water users and managers use to quantify the hydrologic cycle. A water budget is an accounting of the rates of water movement and the change in water storage in all or parts of the atmosphere, land surface, and subsurface.