weather icon Clear

Nevada bans new residential wells in Pahrump over groundwater decline

Updated December 21, 2017 - 10:32 pm

Nevada’s top water regulator has ordered a halt to residential well drilling in Pahrump in hopes of slowing the decline of the community’s overtaxed groundwater supply.

The unprecedented order issued Tuesday by State Engineer Jason King prohibits new domestic wells anywhere in the Pahrump Valley unless property owners first purchase existing water rights.

King said the groundwater basin that supplies Nye County’s largest town is “severely over-appropriated” and cannot support the addition of new wells on top of existing water rights.

Click to see a larger image.

According to state estimates, approximately 20,000 acre-feet of water a year can be pumped sustainably from the ground beneath Pahrump, but more than 59,000 acre-feet of water rights have been issued in the valley.

That total does not include the water that is allowed to be withdrawn from Pahrump’s roughly 11,000 existing domestic wells.

No other basin in Nevada has a higher concentration of such wells, King said. In one square mile, some 489 domestic wells have been drilled into the water table.

‘You have to draw the line’

“You have to draw the line somewhere,” said Oz Wichman, general manager of the Nye County Water District. “You can’t keep stacking on more commitments for additional water.”

The district sent a letter to King on Dec. 11, urging him to enact the moratorium on domestic wells.

Elsewhere in Nevada, state law allows property owners who live outside the service area of a water utility to sink a well and pump up to 2 acre-feet of water a year without a water right.

In Pahrump, a new domestic well can’t be drilled until the property owner signs over to the state 2 acre-feet of existing water rights to offset the new well’s draw on the aquifer.

One acre-foot is enough water to supply two average Las Vegas Valley homes for a little more than a year.

King notes in his order that groundwater levels have declined steadily in Pahrump since the 1950s, despite numerous efforts by the state engineer to regulate pumping and stabilize the aquifer.

He also cites projections from the Nye County Water District showing that continued declines in the water table could cause more than 400 wells to fail by 2035 and more than 3,000 to fail by 2065.

King’s order only applies to new domestic wells, not existing wells that need to be deepened, repaired or replaced.

News spreads ‘like lightning’

Wichman said Thursday that news of the state’s new water directive has spread through Pahrump “like lightning,” and with it has come misinformation, confusion and “a fair bit of anger.”

He said the order is not meant to stunt development in the Pahrump Valley, which he believes can sustain about 80,000 residents, more than double the current population, with the water it has now.

“This is not a no-more-growth order. This is a no-more-water-commitments order,” he said.

The county water district requested the move to help bring Pahrump’s water disparity under control until broader conservation measures and other management strategies can be implemented. Wichman hopes to see that comprehensive water management plan in the hands of his board, the Nye County Commission and the state engineer by next spring.

Already, though, the owner of one local well-drilling business is threating legal action over King’s order.

“There was no reason for this,” said Debra Strickland, president of Strickland Construction and a 43-year resident of Pahrump. “For our own water board to do this to us, it just befuddles me.”

As far as Strickland is concerned, Pahrump doesn’t have a shortage of water so much as a surplus of water rights on the books. She said the state is trying to solve what amounts to an accounting problem by punishing property owners and businesses like hers.

Well driller says she’s out of business

Strickland said 14 of her customers just had their applications to drill domestic wells denied by the state engineer’s office.

“It impacted my business $50,000,” she said. “Today I’m not in the well-drilling business anymore.”

The situation is even worse for property owners, Strickland said. They can expect to pay thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars more to have a new well put in as increased demand drives up the cost of water rights.

Earlier this year, she said, she could buy water rights for about $2,400 an acre-foot. “I imagine they’ll be up to 10,000 (dollars) an acre-foot by next year.”

Strickland already has begun assembling a coalition of local well owners, contractors, drillers and real estate agents to challenge the order in court.

Wichman isn’t surprised.

“Any time that you touch the subject matter of water, it’s controversial,” he said. “When you live in the driest state in the union, that comes with the territory.”

Order prohibiting the drilling of new domestic wells in Pahrump by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
House committee OKs bill by Titus for airport signs

The House Homeland Security Committee approved a bill by Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., Wednesday to translate airport signs into multiple languages to assist tourists and others who don’t speak English.