Humboldt County Commission to discuss Grass Valley nitrate mitigation during special meeting

WINNEMUCCA — All residents of Grass Valley, including those in the Gold Country, Star City and Winnemucca Municipal Airport areas, are invited to attend a special meeting of the Humboldt County Commission focused on resolving longstanding water issues in the region.

The meeting, which has been scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday, August 29, will center on rising nitrate levels in the area and recommendations from a preliminary engineering report prepared through the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection’s State Revolving Loan Fund, which provides loans for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure construction projects to publicly- and privately -owned systems in Nevada. 

The report outlines the various water issues facing the Grass Valley area and offers possible solutions — the preferred being the future construction of a wastewater collection and treatment facility.

Additionally, information regarding the possible purchase of the Gold Country Water System is expected to be discussed by the commissioners.

Residents began expressing concern about rising nitrate levels in Grass Valley in the early 1990s. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, drinking water should have no more than 10 mg per liter of nitrate—a limit enforced by law. Water with more than 10 mg/L of nitrate is considered unsafe to drink as it could potentially lead to health complications and illness. 

In order to mitigate rising nitrate levels over the years, drinking water from existing public water wells with unsafe levels has been limited in favor of public wells that meet water quality standards. 

However, due to the large number of septic systems in Grass Valley, nitrate levels continue to rise annually in area wells.

The newest wells in both Star City and Gold Country are expected to exceed the maximum contaminant level of nitrates in the coming years.

Nitrate is a chemical found in most fertilizers, manure, and liquid waste discharged from septic tanks. 

Natural bacteria in soil can convert nitrogen into nitrate. In addition to septic absorption fields, rain or irrigation water can convey nitrate down through the soil into groundwater where concentrations can appear in well water. 

Nitrates can be filtered from drinking water systems at great expense; however, the process may not be feasible for the many private wells in the area.

Drinking water treatment solutions include reverse osmosis, distillation, or ion exchange, but treating drinking water from wells does not address the nitrate levels in the groundwater.  

Instead, wastewater collection and treatment systems are proven methods of reducing impacts of nitrates on groundwater. 

Humboldt County acquired the Star City Water System in 2020; at this month’s meeting, county officials will review findings from the preliminary engineering report to make a decision regarding the Gold Country Water System, which also includes the Airport Industrial Park. 

If the county does move forward with acquiring the Gold Country Water System, the first order of business will be to install a new well that can provide three to four years of low-nitrate drinking water until a wastewater collection and treatment plant can be built.

Construction of the initial phase of a wastewater collection and treatment plant could begin as soon as design documents and funding are obtained; future phases of the sewer system would be built out depending on growth and financial feasibility.

The goal of the discussions will be to ensure safe drinking water, control costs to the consumer, and build a system that can accommodate future growth — both residential and commercial.

The Monday, August 29, meeting of the Humboldt County Commission will begin at 4:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at Grass Valley Elementary School, located at 6465 Grass Valley Road. 

While commissioners will discuss the agenda items as a group, there will be ample time for residents to share comments and ask questions. 

For more information, please call the office of the Humboldt County Manager at 775-623-6300. 

The agenda is available for viewing at