State Reports On Mesquite Water Resources

The underground aquifer supplying the City of Mesquite and town of Bunkerville with water is stable and is in no danger of being depleted in the near future. At least, that was the message given during a report made by representatives of the Nevada State Division of Water Resources during a Sept. 28 meeting of the Mesquite City Council.

“Based upon the data and the information that we have right now, we see that the conditions and the use of water in this basin is sustainable,” said Micheline Fairbank, Deputy Administrator with the Division of Water Resources. “So there is no need for concern or those types of things. It appears that it is relatively stable, and that is what we want to see is stability.”

Fairbank and two other state water officials responded to an invitation by Mesquite City Council to answer concerns voiced by members of the local public about the state of water resources in the Virgin River Basin, a vast underground water resource which is tapped to supply water needs for the community.

In an earlier Council meeting on Aug. 10, Mesquite resident Mike McGreer gave a presentation before the Council which insisted that the basin may be in danger of being over-pumped to supply development in the community. In that presentation, McGreer cited a U.S. Geological Survey study done in 1969 which calculated the perennial yield of the basin, or the maximum amount of water which can be pumped from it without depleting the groundwater source. In the study, the perennial yield was calculated at around 3,600 acre feet of water (afy) per year. But the estimated permits and certificates issued on the basin is currently in excess of 12,000 afy. This was what caused some of the public concern
An acre foot of water is roughly the amount needed to serve the water needs of three Mesquite households for one year.

In his presentation, McGreer called for an extensive conjunctive study to be done to determine precisely how much water is available in the basin for use. He called for a moratorium on all new development until such a study should be completed.

In Tuesday’s meeting, Fairbanks confirmed that the perennial yield for the basin is indeed calculated at 3,600 afy. But she pointed out that the perennial yield number only includes the amount of recharge that comes in through precipitation and other subsurface flows into the aquifer. Other factors exist, however, in the Virgin River basin that must be considered, she said. Specifically this involves the existence of significant surface water from the Virgin River.

“Rivers often contribute to groundwater recharge,” Fairbank said. “So based on the fact that we have a substantial river running through the system we have identified a system yield which takes account both the groundwater recharge as well as the surface water resources. Taking all of those factors into consideration the system yield is estimated at 100,000 afy.”

This information, as well as much of the other state water data used by the State Engineers office comes from the same U.S. Geological Survey in 1969 cited by McGreer in his report.

According to Fairbank, the Department is currently seeking public infrastructure funding to complete a comprehensive update to water budgets for all of the 256 water basins in the state. The study would take 10 years to complete and would cost $8-10 million, she said.

Despite all of this, Fairbanks emphasized to the Council repeatedly that just because the USGS study is 50 years old doesn’t mean that its science is flawed or its data irrelevant.

“Our office is charged with utilizing the best available science and that is what we have right now,” Fairbanks said. “It is sound, comprehensive and competent data. That is what we rely upon. That is what we are going ahead with. But we are looking towards the future to be able to update that information.”
“An updated study will either confirm or amend the existing numbers,” Fairbanks added. “In our experience in areas where we have had to go back and update things, in most of those instances, it doesn’t change significantly. Most of the numbers are generally fairly accurate.”

Councilman Brian Wursten asked whether the city could feel confident with the allotment of 12,271 afy of water assigned for use in the basin and whether there was any urgency to do a study immediately for the Virgin River Basin.

Fairbank responded that the objective of her office is to cover all of the state, but with limited resources and manpower, the State Engineer must set priorities. Areas that receive priority are those seeing a groundwater level depletion, or wells having to be redrilled because they have dried up, or other adverse effects from overuse or over-pumping of water. None of that is being seen in Virgin Valley, she said.
“Of course, priorities change,” she said. “If we start to see conditions that are concerning in this particular location, then our attention would shift.”

Councilwoman Sandra Ramaker asked what the city should be doing to help in managing water resources. Fairbank responded that the city should maintain a good relationship, and open communications, with the Virgin Valley Water District which is the agency charged with water management in the community.

Ramaker then asked if the city ought to be pushing more of a conservation objective in respect to water resources. Fairbank answered that conservation is always important and responsible in the desert environment. But she emphasized that conservation efforts are a localized issue.
“That is a subject that is unique to specific localities and the needs and conditions which exist in each community,” Fairbank said. “So it is just finding that right balance for the particular community.”

Councilman George Gault asked if the VVWD has a conservation plan in place which is compliant with state requirements. Fairbanks answered that all water management entities in the state are required by statute to develop and submit a water conservation plan. In addition, it is the role of the State Engineer’s office to review each of those plans, she said.
“We make sure that all of the (water management) entities in the state are responsible and compliant,” Fairbank said. “This community is in compliance.”

Gault said that he would like to see more conservation efforts in the community including obtaining grants to purchase turf from homeowners, instituting a watering schedule and requiring low-flush toilets and other lower water use fixtures.
“I think we should start conserving now,” Gault said. “Because we are going to grow and we need to think about that for the future.”

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