Pershing County protests proposed water diversion

The Pershing County Commission filed a “vigorous” protest with the state water engineer against a flood water diversion project proposed by a New York water speculator. The water would be collected for an underground storage site near a corporate farm in Humboldt County.

U.S. Water and Land Company LLC has applied to the Nevada Division of Water Resources to divert up to 300,000 acre-feet per year of “unappropriated” Humboldt River flood water for an aquifer storage system at Winnemucca Farms. Multiple diversion structures, canals, pumps, pipelines, injection wells and rapid infiltration basins would cost the company over $100 million.

Flood or other water would be channeled to the underground collection site from four sites along the Humboldt River at a rate of up to 414.4 cubic feet per second, according to the application.

“Said project is for the purpose of creating an Aquifer Storage and Recovery site. It will be a water resources management tool for actively storing designated surface water underground during wet periods or when excess surface water is available. Stored water would be available for recovery/use when needed.”

Lovelock Valley irrigators were not enthused when Winnemucca Farms presented the plan years ago at a Pershing County Water Conservation District meeting. The water diversion and storage project was considered costly and a potential threat to farmers near the end of the river.

Pershing County Commission Chairman Rob McDougal explained his concerns last week.

“This does refer to flood water so it’s not an every year thing,” he said. “It’s questionable whether there’s 300,000 acre-feet of unappropriated water in the river. A lot of people would argue there’s not, even in flood years.”

The applicant promotes regional benefits of the plan as it could save flood water that would otherwise be lost downstream to the Humboldt Sink where the river ends in Pershing County.

“Directed and stored water will improve local and regional water supply reliability by capturing designated amounts of flood and other water that now flows unchecked and unused into the Humboldt Sink,” the project summary states.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife owns water rights for the Humboldt Wildlife Management Area and the Humboldt Sink when water is available in wet years. In 2017, water returned to the Humboldt Sink after years of drought and attracted thousands of resident and migratory birds.

“If there’s an over-abundance of water that flows through this valley, the department of wildlife has water rights for the sink to provide for waterfowl habitat,” McDougal said. “It’s my opinion that this company from the East is interested in buying and selling water in any way they can.”

Groundwater fees up

The county commission “reluctantly” approved the state water department’s $72,626 in groundwater assessment fees to be billed to groundwater users in Pershing County. Irrigation wells must be metered with increased monitoring and expenses for state water officials.

Groundwater management costs include “water commissioner salaries, special studies, water measurements, crop inventories, field investigations and associated data collection,” according to a letter to the Pershing County Commission from Nevada State Water Engineer Jason King.

As a result, the groundwater assessment fee increased from 30 cents to 50 cents per acre-foot of groundwater rights for the upcoming fiscal year from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.

“It is to pay additional people to monitor wells. The division also required metering on all the wells in the Humboldt River system, other than domestic wells,” McDougal explained. “At any rate, this (groundwater assessment) is per state law. We really don’t have any choice.”

Imlay barrel dump

Soil contamination has been eliminated after clean up of an old mining waste dump near Imlay according to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. Hazardous waste has been removed from the Imlay Drum Disposal Site managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Hundreds of barrels containing hazardous, ore-processing chemicals were dumped at the site by a former mining operation. For years, the site was fenced and posted as a public health hazard prior to the clean up. No further work is needed unless conditions change at the site.

Burning man costs

Public Defender Steve Cochran said more court interpreter services are needed due to the “worldly” nature of Burning Man. The festival attracts participants from around the world some of whom end up in court with language barriers that can interfere with court proceedings, he said.

Last year, the county jail inmate population exceeded the facility’s 25 bed capacity with 36 people incarcerated on Aug. 31 near the start of the festival, according to Sheriff Jerry Allen.

This year, body cameras may be needed for all sheriff’s deputies at the event, another expense for the county. If the festival is allowed to expand, the county’s future law enforcement, jail and court costs will continue to climb. Cost recovery is currently limited by the 2013 settlement agreement but event organizers are willing to consider new county costs, Shields said.

“They are open to sit down and consider maybe adding a little more to decrease the burden on Pershing County in light of the new laws,” he said. “We can address this in the EIS scoping period but it wouldn’t hurt to sit down with Ray and Marnee to talk about some of these issues.”