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Pahrump Mirror
Pahrump, Nevada
February 13, 1997     Pahrump Mirror
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February 13, 1997

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i Water in Pahrump drying up, part II by Tom Buqo with Doug McMurdo PAHRUMP- In last week's edition, the Pahrump Valley Gazette informed readers of a potentially "bleak" water supply forecast for Pahrump and southern Nye. This forecast was prepared over a sir month period by respected consulting hydrogeologist Thomas Buqo. Several readers have voiced objection to Buqo's findings. The most common complaint focuses on the aquifer underneath Pahrum F It seems a no'th has rooted itself as fact over a pe#iod of several decades. While it is true a large aquifer lies beneath the ground, very little is actually known about it. Except it is not a bottomless well. hi this edition, Mr. Buqo discusses four alternatives for future water supplies in the Pahrump Valley, including development of the above-referenced car- bonate aquifer. Other options suggested by Buqo are man- aged overdraft of the basin; " importation ofwaterfromother basins; administrative actions and a combination of all four. "The fight .for the last wate rhole" is about to become engaged. In the face of Pahrump's relentless growth and the well-documented his- to O ' of water shortages in Got water.'? southern Nevada, it is impera- tive citizens are fully informed of the realities ofjnding a viable, safe water source for southern Nye now and # the future. Given the projected future population of Pahrump and the associated water demand, the alternatives for meeting this demand are limited. The alternatives that have been identified (referenced above) are as follows: Managed Overdraft If additional water supplies cannot be obtained, then Pahrump will have to rely solely on the water resources of Pahrump Valley. Given existing water use already exceeds the perennial yield (annual recharge) and large-scale development is continuing, overdraft oftbe basin is expected to increase with time. Based upon the census and water demand projections discussed last week, groundwater withdrawals will exceed 30,000 acre feet per year by about 2010. At that time, problems with declining well yields, subsidence, and water quality are likely to begin. Under the best case scenario, this level of overdraft is not expected to begin until about 2040. To mitigate these problems, the distribution of supply wells in the basin will need to be optimized. Pumpage from areas prone to subsidence could be reduced in favor of wells located l'dgher on the alluvial fan of the Spring Mountains. Recharge wells could be used during offpeak months to stabilize water levels in some areas. Decreased water quality could be mitigated either through treatment or through the mixing of water from various sources to meet chemical standards. One oftbe problems that hampers effective management of the groundwater resources of Pahrump is the lack of a commu- nity-wide water utility. None of the public water supply sys- tems have the resources to solve the future supply problems of the community; each system is concerned only with meeting its - own more limited demands. Likewise, domestic well owners ha,e little incentive for working toward a long-term solution until their wells actually go dry. Another problem that hampers water resource management is the public perception the water resources of the basin are unlimited. Some landowners or their agents that are anxious to sell land have a tendency to overstate the resources that are available. The public needs to be educated the water supplies are not unlimited and a serious water supply problem cannot be avoided without the cooperation of all water users in the community. Development of the Carbonate Aquifer - The carbonate aquifer underlying Pahrump Valley has the potential for supple- menting the water resources available to the community. Very little is known about this aquifer in southern Nye County, but it has been proven to be very productive in areas of northern Clark County. There are favorable carbonate rocks and geo- logic structures in the vicinity of Pahrump. These features suggest productive water supply wells might be drilled into this water source. The U.S. Geologic Survey, in their 1976 study of the basin, concluded groundwater withdrawals from the allu- vial aquifer would not intercept an appreciable amount of the groundwater that currently discharges out of the basin into California. In fact, their modelling results indicate pumping in 1976 captured only 200 acre feet of the 18,000 acre feet that discharge out of the basin each year. It may be possible to intercept a much greater quan- tity of this discharge by care- fully managed groundwater withdrawals from the carbon- ate aquifer. To develop the carbonate aquifer, water rights would have to be obtained and ex- ploration and testing would need to be done to determine the yield potential of the aqui- fer and the best locations lor Photo supply wells. The locations of wells should be selected to maximize the capture of discharge out of the basin and well yields while minimizing overall production costs. Several production water wells, one or more storage tanks, and miles of pipeline would then have to be constructed to convey the water to the developed areas of Pahrump. The actual quantity of groundwater that discharges out of Pahrump Valley via the carbonate aquifer is not known and it may be appreciably more than the 18,000 acre feet estimated by previous studies. The quantity is not unlimited, however, and even under the most optimistic scenarios, the combined yield from this aquifer and the alluvial aquifer cannot be expected to meet the long-term demand of the community. Water importation The water supplies of Pahrump Valley could be supple- mented with water from other basins in the region. The alter- natives e rather limited, however, for this option. It can be safely assumed that no additional water can be obtained from the east from either Las Vegas Valley or Mesquite (Sandy) Valley. To the north, the future availability of water will be .... determined by water use on the Nevada Test Site. Cur- rently unused water in Mer- cury Valley and Rock Valley could be developed and con- veyed to Pahrump. Unused water in Amargosa Valley could also be developed and conveyed to Pahrump. As noted in the section on Amargosa Valley, actual water use in the basin is less than the perennial yield. If water rights can be obtained in this basin, then supplemen- tal water supplies could be developed ( if current plans of American Resources, Inc. for a 10,000 unit retirement com- munity with six golf courses located in Amargosa Valley aren't developed. All other basins clOse enough to cost- effectively convey water to 751-3541 Pahrump,gadley Gazat,hursday, February q 3; t997 3 Pahrump are owned by the federal government. Water rights cannot be obtabled). Administrative actions and combined alternatives Buqo s suggested administrative actions are likely sound. It is more likely they will be met with staunch resistance from Pahrumpian's for they touch on conservation programs with penalties for water wasters. Buqo points out these programs have been successful elsewhere in Nevada. There is dispute rating that success with many opponents calling these efforts "rat on your neighbor" laws. Buqo's second proposed action is even less inviting than conservation programs. Buqo suggests "zoning that increases the residential density can decrease the overall demand for water." As a last resort, Buqo suggests imposing a moratorium on new development or increasing water rates, conceding such measures are seldom popular and may have severe political ramifications. Of Buqo's ten conclusions, two seem to be the most important for Pahrump's leaders to analyze: "Water planning and the implementation of conservation techniques i n Pahrump are hampered by the lack of a single, community wide water supply system. The uncontrolled drilling of hundreds of new domestic wells each year and public perceptioq that the water resources of the valley are unlimited also hamper effective water resources management and planning" and "Projected long-term water demands will probably have to be met in part with water imported to Pahrump Valley from other basins in Nye County. The only reasonable alternative may be to restrict future growth to a level compatible with existing water supplies in the basin." The Pahrump Valley Gazette continues to research this issue attd will update the communities affected, including the differing water supply opinions generated within the scientific community. CtOOt  WA 88 south w, Xl// fm 7274m7 , NV eao4a LEE GREEN MICHAEL K. SMrrH i " II I "- I:XP.qHDI:D H.cw m.ct'tu! r,-igl .D4W4;D (OT-T. 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