Adequate water rights may be needed for new parcels, 40 acres or less

Pershing County land owners seeking to divide property into 40 acre parcels or less could be required to provide two acre-feet of water rights for each new parcel. If approved, the amended county code could slow future development and population growth in the county’s rural areas.

The Planning Commission recommended county leaders consider the amendment to protect existing water users in Grass Valley and other areas where water is already over-allocated.

According to an analysis of the Grass Valley Hydrographic Basin, the area’s appropriated groundwater duty of 38,819.64 acre-feet annually (AFA) is nearly three times the valley’s perennial yield of approximately 13,000 AFA, meaning over-appropriation of 25,000 AFA.

Manner of use (MOU) for Grass Valley is 74 percent irrigation, 14 percent municipal, 4 percent for mining and milling, 4 percent for domestic wells, 3 percent industrial and 1 percent “other.”

The Farr West Engineering report states that Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) give local governments the right to regulate the size of parcel splits and to require adequate water rights “to protect existing water users, domestic well owners and parties proposing new development.”

“Farr West recommends incorporating a water quantity requirement for new parcels. For example, requiring a Relinquishment for 2.0 acre-feet for newly created parcels…There are other requirements related to water quality and parcel size that may be used to limit new domestic wells. The County can develop this criteria and update development codes.”

The engineering firm reported that most of the 18 groundwater basins in Pershing County are over-allocated including the Lovelock Valley where the “committed AFA” of 10,944 AFA is nearly five times the valley’s estimated perennial yield of 2,200 AFA.

Planning Commissioner/Grass Valley resident Tori Apperson said at least one Grass Valley resident’s well has dropped and the person no longer has adequate water for her basic needs. The long-time resident blamed the water shortage on a spinach grower who’s new to the area.

“The one lady said, for half of the summer since he’s been here, she hasn’t been able to take a shower and she’s never had a problem with her well,” Apperson said. “I’ve talked to people all the time who don’t have any water in their wells. One lady has gone past 600 feet to find water.”

To protect existing water users in Grass Valley, Apperson suggested that new development should be limited and landowners should no longer be allowed to split 40-acre parcels. 

“If you own 40 acres, you can’t subdivide it and you get one well. You’re not going to have five acres and then split another five acres for your son or daughter,” she said. “Forty acres is yours and that’s it because we have to put our foot down.”

Lovelock Meadows Water District Manager Rusty Kiel was asked for his view of the proposal.

“All the problems in the State of Nevada, and I’ll use Pahrump as one, started out as a domestic well here, a domestic well there, everything was really good. Then you multiply that by 40,000 (wells) and you have a serious problem,” he said. “The state engineer doesn’t want anything to do with domestic wells. The Humboldt River Basin problem we’re trying to get a solution to, domestic wells aren’t even mentioned in it. Anything below five acre-feet, they don’t care.”

Kiel suggested using water requirements to discourage parcel splits “is a really good start.”

“Parcel splits turn into subsequent parcel splits and turn into something ugly,” he told the planning commission. “They don’t always come in as a subdivision to where the governing bodies get a crack at them. Here in this valley, LMWD pretty much controls that part.”

Planning consultant Cynthia Albright explained Washoe County’s policy on parcel splits.

“You can’t subdivide a 40-acre parcel into four tens or eight fives or ten fours or whatever the case may be unless you dedicate water rights in accordance with the amount of water determined to be appropriate for a single family home or other use,” she told the board.

Planning Commissioner Andy Benolkin explained the proposed development code another way. 

“You can build whatever you want, we’re fine with your constitutional rights, but in order to build it, we want you to find some water rights, buy some water rights to back that up,” he said. “Reno does it, Washoe County does it…It’s a pretty common situation to control that growth.”

Benolkin recommended the county require water rights for new parcel splits of 40 acres or less. In Humboldt County, two acre-feet of water rights are required for new parcels less than 5 acres in any groundwater basin that is or will be designated as depleted . 

“I’ll make a motion that we do the same thing Humboldt County is doing except that we extend it to 40 acres or less and to the whole county, to every basin that is over-allocated,” he said.

Albright requested clarification of Benolkin’s recommendation.

“What you are saying is that the minimum parcel size will be 40 acres for water right dedication for further subdivision,” she said. “Got it. I just wanted clarification.”

Apperson said she voted in favor of the recommendation but “with reservations.”

”I think that 40 acres is too low, I think we should start higher,” she said. “But, I can’t convince you guys because you don’t live out here…I drive around (Grass Valley) and I see how much water is being used and I see how much water is being wasted.”

Today (March 16), the County Commission will consider the recommendation and a “moratorium on subdivisions and parcel maps in the Grass Valley area pending modification to the Pershing County Development Code as it pertains to subdivisions and parcel maps.”