Recently the Nevada Legislative Committee on Natural Resources considered a Bill to allow appeals of water rates of five percent or more imposed by the Moapa Valley Water District and the Virgin Valley Water District (VVWD). Before acting on the bill, Yvanna D. Canela, D, NV. 10, Chairperson of the Committee required discussions between proponents and the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB).
One May 16, the Virgin Valley Water Board (VVWB) address the issue publicly. VVWB members Ben Davis and Travis Anderson expressed a desire to continue to work on a solution. Board member Rich Bowler said: “I will never vote for outside oversight.” “Voters are our oversight,” he said. Board member Barbara Ellestad joined Bowler in suggesting that voters are the final decisions makers of the board’s actions. That is not true. The VVWB is a sub-agency of the State of Nevada subject to legislation, legal statutes, and possible court action as well as general public oversight.
Over the years, both homebuilders and homeowners have experienced questionable rate increases. Now the Conestoga Golf Course (Pulte), Mesquite Gaming, and Wolf Creek Golf Course face increases in their landscaping leases of Virgin River water arguably “purchased” by the VVWB from shareholders of the Mesquite Irrigation Company (MIC) and the Bunkerville Irrigation Company (BIC). One current Mesquite NV., City Councilman with knowledge of water issues, has stated that MIC and BIC water cannot legally be “purchased.”
Historically MIC and BIC shareholders used the Virgin River water for farming and livestock tasks and in some cases consumption. When farming and livestock practices died out, shareholders were stuck with virtually useless water. That existed until the formation of the Virgin Valley Water District in 1993. That legislative action gave the VVWB the power to use public money for, among other things, the acquisition and lease water.
On June 9, 1993, the first VVWD board members John Lee, Cresent Hardy, J.L. Bowler, Todd Leavitt, and Sam Reber, voted to purchase shareholder water. Reber set a share at about $3,000.
The standard way to measure water is not by shares but by the Acre Feet of water delivered yearly (AFY). Originally the Board valued a BIC share at having 10 AFY in each share. Originally they valued a MIC share at 7.24 AFY per share. At $3,000 per share, one-acre feet of water delivered yearly would cost $300. At the same price, one AFY of MIC water would cost $414
On March 28, 1996, the VVWB increased the per share amount from $3,000 per share to between $4,000 and $5,000 per share. That equates to between $400 per AFA if BIC water and $690 per AFY if MIC water. Those amounts never held.
For example, in 1997 J.L. Bowler, Sam Reber and Rita Pulsipher among others received $6,000 per share ($828.73 per AFY) for MIC water. That year, Anna (Bowler) Hardy, Milissa Pulsipher and Eldred and Ruby Leavitt and others received the same $8,287.30 ($828.73 per AFY) for BIC water. Those rates continued to rise.
In 2005 Larry Reber received $22,806 ($3,150.00 per AFY) for one share of MIC water. Kelly and Karla Jensen and others also received $31,500 ($3,150 per AFY) for each share of BIC water purchased by the VVWB.
By mid-July 2008, the Board had spent $2,913,362.90 for 426 shares (3,332.64 AFY) of MIC and BIC river water. On July 21, 2008, board meeting Cecil Leavitt said they had enough river water. Nonetheless, from about July 24, 2008, to May 4, 2010, the VVWB spent an additional $9,246,307.96 for 125 shares (1,065.08 AFY) of water from MIC and BIC shareholders that Leavitt said was not needed. Again costs varied. For example, in 2008, Steve Tietjen, Mike Black, and the Oasis Golf Club all received $71,422.72 per share ($9,865 per AFY) for each of their MIC shares. That year, Leoona Tanner received ($86,000) per share ($8,600 per AFY) for one share of BIC river water.
The price also differed among sellers in 2009. For example, Bunk Farm LLC (Duane E. and Mona H. Magoon and Ron and Carolyn Leavitt and Lyle Holdings LLC) received $80.056.23 per share ($8,600.00 per AFY) for BIC water. However, Cresent Hardy (dba Bunk Compound) received $80,056.23 per share ($8,005.62 per AFY) for BIC water. The VVWB also paid Hardy $425,000 for 1.18 acres of land for an arsenic plant. The price was considered artificially high.
In total, the VVWB spent $12,159,670.86 of ratepayer and debt funds (earmarked for infrastructure repairs) for a total of 551 shares of MIC and BIC water. Digging two wells, pipes, and pumps would cost about $4 million. They could deliver about 6,392 AFY of water. That investment would have saved ratepayers $8,159,670.86 and produced 1,984.28 AFY more water per year. About 51% of Nevada farmers and ranchers use groundwater for irrigation.
The evidence suggests that past VVWB members acquired more shareholder water than necessary at outrageously high prices. It also appears that they obtained that water, in part, with bond funds earmarked for maintenance and repairs. The evidence further suggests that deals were made between Board members and individuals to whom they may have had a familial relationship or close personal affinity. More recently, one City Council has said that BIC and MIC water cannot be purchased.
All of these issues must be legally resolved by the Clark County District Attorney before any more discussion about the leasing of shareholder water.
Note: A complete Case Study of the Virgin Valley Water District by Michael M. McGreer will be available in print and digital format on Amazon in the Fall.