Nitrate mitigation talk spurs multiple split-votes amongst county leaders

The Humboldt County Boards of Commissioners convened at Grass Valley Elementary School with the community for a special meeting on Aug. 29 regarding nitrate mitigation for residents in the Grass Valley (GV) area. Commissioner Tom Hoss was present via web-call and the rest of the Board was present in person. 

The rising nitrate levels in the Gold Country Water System (GCW) and the Star City Water System from the septic system concentration in the GV area have been a concern since the early 1990s.

A motion to accept a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) from Farr West Engineering regarding GCW was passed in a split-vote, with Commissioner Tom Hoss in opposition. 

The PER by Farr West outlined three options to mitigate nitrates in the water systems, including connecting to the City of Winnemucca’s sewer system, constructing Wastewater Treatment Ponds, or constructing and operating a County-owned Mechanical Wastewater Treatment Facility (WWTF). The conservative estimates from Farr West state that the most feasible option, the WWTF, will cost the County approximately 27.8 million dollars to construct and 350,000 dollars to operate annually. Residential properties could be charged $55 monthly to utilize the services and commercial property owners could be charged $137 monthly, according to estimates from Farr West.  

The acceptance of the PER allows Humboldt County to pursue funding sources that could significantly reduce the costs to both users and to the County, according to County Manager, Dave Mendiola. Without the acceptance of the PER from Farr West, the County would have been stuck at a stand-still and miss out on opportunities to gain funding from the State and Federal Government.

Mendiola said that Humboldt County’s goal is to get all of the costs associated with the construction of a WWTF covered by grants. 

 A PER and appraisal for Gold Country Water was presented as an information only item. The Board heard from Mark Foree, principal of Gold Country Water, about the increasing nitrate levels in two of their four wells that supply water to many GV residents. In order to combat the increasings levels, the County is considering purchasing the Gold Country Water System, consolidating it with the Star City Water System (attained by the County in 2019), drilling a new single well, and connecting all users to the WWTF to reduce nitrates for as many people as possible. Appraisals of the system state that the opinion value of GCW is approximately 1.7 million dollars.

Drilling a new well would create a new source for water with low nitrate levels and safeguard against the event of one breaking down, according to Mendiola. 


Humboldt County Comptroller, Gina Rackley, Deputy District Attorney, Wendy Maddox, and Andree Rose from Drake & Associates presented options for the Board to consider for forming a General Improvement District (GID) or creating an Enterprise Fund if GCW is acquired. 

The key difference between a GID and an Enterprise Fund lies in governance, according to Comptroller Rackley. If a GID is created under the County, residents from the area would make up the governing board. If an Enterprise Fund is established, the Board of Commissioners would serve as the governing board. 

Rackley explained that, since time is such an important factor, it is the recommendation of herself, Maddox, and Rose, that the Commissioners consider setting up an Enterprise Fund initially, then, after things are in place, a GID can be established with residents forming the board. 

The process for setting up a GID requires that the County set district boundaries, write ordinances, hold public hearings, and find residents to serve on the GID, which will take a very long time, according to Maddox.  

Nevada Division of Environmental Protection Administrative (EPA) Services Officer III, Jason Cooper, presented an overview concerning the Office of Financial Assistance, Bureau of Administrative Services and the funding available to the County through the State Revolving Fund via web-call for as an information only item. 

According to Cooper, there is 1.85 million dollars in funding available to Humboldt County for the acquisition and consolidation of the Gold Country Water and Star City Water systems, with the potential for savings through interest rate reduction. 

The EPA would grant Humboldt County the funds through a Principal Forgiveness Loan, much like a grant, that requires no repayment upon the closure of the loan. This information will help the Commissioners to make future decisions regarding the purchase of GCW. 

A motion for the Commissioners to give direction in regards to the acquisition of GCW to the County Manager, Comptroller, and District Attorney’s Office passed with Commissioner Hoss in opposition. 

Direction from the Commissioners allows the offices to gather information and determine the feasibility and best interest circumstances for the County. The motion also allows the offices to seek independent contractors to help ascertain the information needed to determine desirability and feasibility of Humboldt County acquiring GCW. Again, without the passing of the motion, no progress could be made to address nitrate levels. 

A letter of intent to the State Revolving Fund Board for Humboldt County to confirm interest in acquiring the GCW system passed in a split-vote with Hoss in opposition. The letter is non-binding, but without expressed intent, the money available through the State Revolving Fund cannot be secured if it is determined that the County wishes to acquire GCW. 

The letter secures that the Board for Financing Water Projects will reserve funds for Humboldt County when they convene at their budget meeting in October. The Commissioners that voted to pass the motion agreed that even if they reject the funds—which they can do because they are non-binding at this point—it is their duty to pursue any and all funding opportunities that could relieve financial burden from Humboldt County residents. 

A motion to engage Shroeder Law Attorney, Theresa Ure-Stix, for legal counsel regarding an acquisition agreement for GCW passed with Hoss in opposition. The passing of the motion allows Humboldt County to seek legal overview for the acquisition process if the Commissioners vote to purchase the GCW system. Determining the legality of the acquisition helps the Board to make more informed decisions. 

A motion to enter into an agreement with Shaw Engineering to evaluate the conditions of the GCW system and potential risks involved in the acquisition passed unanimously. Shaw Engineering will investigate conditions of the system, maintenance aspects, and liability to the County if the Commissioners decide to purchase the systems.