Protesters Angry Over Water Rights Of Domestic Wells In Nevada

Sep 14, 2016

Dozens of Nevadans recently protested at the state legislature about what they see as potential governmental overreach on the water rights of domestic wells. They rely on those wells as their main source of water. Our contributor Bob Conrad of ThisisReno.com has the story.

A legislative subcommittee tasked with studying Nevada water held a hearing to consider a laundry list of possible changes to state water regulations. Their work has been spurred by several issues, including the ongoing drought and groundwater basins that are over-appropriated. These are areas where there are more water rights than available groundwater.

State Senator Pete Goicochea chairs the committee.

“We’ve got 20 percent of our basins that are over-appropriated today,” Goicochea says. “That’s 59 out of the 208 basins in the state. It’s not a good path we’re following.”

In its search for solutions, the committee is considering everything from cloud seeding to rain catchment systems. But it's potential new regulations for domestic water wells that are drawing the most ire. Many residents are concerned about a proposal to give State Engineer Jason King more authority to reduce groundwater use in areas where water rights are over-appropriated.

“Knowing that the state engineer can currently curtail water use in the domestic well world, then it would behoove us to give some kind of legislative oversight to that so that we do not get in trouble for taking things that people have used.”

That’s state senator Joseph Hardy from Boulder City, a member of the committee.

Prior to the meeting, advocates circulated a petition with hundreds of signatures to protest the potential change. They say it could severely limit their well water.

Susan Nickel spoke out at the hearing during public comment.

“That’s what got you into this mess: overdevelopment,” she says. “What you need to do is listen to your constituents instead of listening to special interest groups like developers. Then to be charged for our own water? That’s an outrage.”

Committee member and Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton also expressed concern.

“I believe we can do more harm when we look at the crisis that some of these basins are going to be going into in the next decade,” Carlton says. “I’m just concerned that we can do more harm than good by not trying to protect these folks at least with indoor water use, and I believe pets and livestock are just as much part of the family structure as the people that live in the house so I think it’s important that we have some options to work with if the basin end up in crisis.”

At the hearing, State Engineer Jason King said he was frustrated by what he said was misinformation about some of the recommendations under review.

"I’m astounded. The source of their aggravation is focused at a lot of information that has been spread that is not based in anything truthful that is before this committee," King says.

While petitioners asserted that some of the water law changes were being proposed by the state, King clarified that some actually came from those in affected areas, such as Nye County. In that county, Pahrump’s domestic wells are drawing water from a groundwater basin estimated to be over-appropriated by 200 percent.

Ultimately, the day-long hearing resulted in hours of public comment. Various interest groups weighed in, too, such as the Great Basin Water Network and the Nevada Mining Association.

Committee chair Goicochea ultimately advocated for tackling the issue of domestic wells for new homes versus existing residential wells.

“I think the key is conservation, and again I know we’re going to have to deal with some of these problem basins,” he says. “But we can’t continue down this path.”

The subcommittee doesn't have the final say in water law changes, but their recommendations could advance to the next legislative session. Goicochea encouraged concerned residents to stay involved in the process for the long haul.

For Reno Public Radio News, I'm Bob Conrad of ThisisReno.com.