Some folks might have missed it, because it didn’t seem to generate too much interest locally, except for those individuals that fully realize just how precious our water really is.
Anyway, U.S. Water and Land, LLC of New York City, made application to the State Engineer of Nevada for permission to appropriate 300,000 acre feet of public waters of the State of Nevada. You ask where in the world that much water could come from? Well pretty specifically, right out of the Humboldt River in the vicinity of Golconda. The application further states that the diversion is to be made from unappropriated flood waters of the Humboldt River.
No mention is made of exactly how U.S. Water and Land plans to get the floodwaters out of the river. This might be difficult, as most of the diversion dams for irrigation of hay lands were either damaged or downright destroyed during the 2017 flood. One must assume that even if they could successfully corral the water, it would have to be transported by pipe or ditch to a suitable site for reinjection into the aquifer. Injecting muddy floodwaters directly into an aquifer might also present problems, as suspended silt fairly rapidly seals off the aquifer, as California has already discovered.
So, who is this U.S. Water and Land, LLC anyways? Well they have been around for a while for sure. U.S. Water and Land, LLC is a subsidiary of Water Asset Management, LLC (WAM). WAM is an investment firm specializing in water. In other words, they buy and sell water. WAM is headed up by one Disque Deane, Jr., a former senior vice president of Vidler Water Company. For those of you that don’t remember history very well, Vidler was deeply involved in the water wars between eastern Nevada and Las Vegas back in the 1990/2000 era.
WAM and Deane are not unknown to the Winnemucca area for that matter. In 2011, Deane and WAM purchased 50 percent of Winnemucca Farms, including their water rights, for a reported $30 million. Shortly after purchase, Deane made application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a permit for the proposed Winnemucca Farms Pumped Storage Project.
This proposed project involved pumping water into storage facilities (dams) on the side of the Bloody Mountains and other sites, while electrical power was cheap, then letting the water flow back down pipelines to generators when electrical rates were higher. A vast amount of publicity was shortly generated on how this project would help Humboldt County, and more specifically Winnemucca, by creating countless new jobs and industries. If the propaganda were to be believed, shortly Winnemucca would be the new “Silicone Valley” of the West; a leader in water management, energy production and innovative concepts involving all aspects of the environment.
Well, not much happened for the next five or so years. No dams have been built on the side of the Bloodies or anywhere else for that matter, but don’t sell Mr. Deane short. During the recent 2017 Legislative Session, Deane and Sam Routson, WAM’s Nevada representative, made an impassioned presentation on how Nevada must come to grips with its water management for the betterment of all. Their presentation was again based on the Humboldt River, with charts and maps to explain how the resources of the River could be better managed.
Their proposal bracketed the River, with a pipeline originating at the headwaters of the Humboldt taking waters from the vicinity of Wells to Las Vegas, and a pipeline at the end of the River (assumedly Rye Patch) taking water to the Reno, Sparks and Fernley area. If you needed water for Vegas or the greater Reno area, this scheme might sound pretty good, especially if you didn’t really know rural Nevada.
A couple of points that Deane and Routson glossed over, however, probably should be mentioned. First, the Humboldt does start near Wells, but it emerges from a few springs, a matter of a few gallons per minute, and then doesn’t pick up much steam until it approaches Elko. Further, the water already is all legally allocated. As far as the other end of the Humboldt, the water in Rye Patch might possibly be questionable for quasi-municipal uses due to various contaminants, without costly purification, and further, that water is also all legally allocated. Those details didn’t slow Deane and Routson down very much in their presentation to the Legislature. No, their presentation was more along the lines that Nevadans must learn to share their resources more equitably, at least resources like water. I, for one, must give the Legislature a “high five” on this issue, as the Deane/Routson presentation seemed to fall on pretty deaf ears.
Well, next comes the notice in the Humboldt Sun on Dec. 13, 2017, that WAM would like to appropriate the “unappropriated” floodwaters of the Humboldt. Actually, it might be difficult to figure out just what is appropriated and what isn’t. Nevada Department of Wildlife, as well as the Federal Government, has rights below Rye Patch, but I suppose all of that can be sorted out. It will be difficult to figure out how to capture the floodwater to begin with, but engineers can sometimes do amazing things. The list could go on and on. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the cost of getting floodwater cleaned up and in a position to be reinjected into the aquifer is going to cost a pile of money. Winnemucca Farms is barely keeping their head above water financially as it is. Adding this costly adventure to their present cost of irrigation water will likely make most forms of agriculture economically prohibitive, with the possible exception of marijuana.
WAM and Deane have $30 million already invested in a vast amount of Humboldt water. Deane has been in the business of buying and selling water for a long time; that’s his business, and it is legal if you clear all the hurdles. He is not a farmer, and I suspect he has little interest in farming, just obtaining the water, as cheaply as possible. With growth in the West, he has long since figured out that there will soon enough be a willing buyer at prices far greater than what the water was bought for to begin with. Deane paid a little over $800 an acre-foot for Winnemucca Farms water, discounting the land, equipment, etc. When the growth in Vegas was at its maximum, water went for as much as $75,000 an acre-foot. I would guess at their present rate of growth, the greater Reno area would be in a significant water crunch within five years.
So how does Humboldt County stop its water from leaving here? Well, fortunately, the county commission just finalized a hard-hitting water policy that is structured to do precisely that, stop water loss to the county. It behooves local planners, economic consultants and whomever else to figure ways to make our water more valuable to local interests. The county has a valuable tool in its water plan, and the Humboldt County Board of Commissioners must jealously guard the county’s water. Fortunately, at the last commission meeting, they voted to protest WAM’s application. The Pershing County Board has also voted to aggressively protest the application. Hopefully, all other impacted counties and entities will follow suit.
If there was the slightest chance that WAM was seriously interested in the betterment of the communities up and down the Humboldt it might be a different thing. But knowing their history, I find that scenario very questionable.
Water represents opportunity for the future, when you lose your water, you have lost that opportunity. The 3,700 young adults presently in the Humboldt County School District, as well as all the other young folks up and down the River, deserve a chance for that opportunity.
Paradise Valley, Nev.