“Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”
The residents of Douglas County deserve a Commissioner who is truly acting for their interests and not acting based on his own agenda. They deserve a representative who will be objective, seek out the facts, and use those facts to base his decision, not pick and choose facts that support his existing ideas. In order to maintain our lifestyle, the management of our water resource is a balancing act that must consider three different uses: agricultural, environmental and growth. The agricultural aspect is of the utmost importance because it maintains three crucial elements of our lifestyle: the view corridor, replenishment of the aquifer, and flood protection. The following is a true picture of the water situation in the Carson Valley Basin and a sample of the research that I have completed to date on the water issue alone.
How much water is there?
Statements have been made that the total water usage in the basin was been 92,000-acre feet and the recharge of the aquifer was last estimated at 49,000-acre feet. Thus, we are using more water than is being put back in the aquifer. This flawed information is based on misinterpretation of a report available from the State of Nevada Division of Water Resources (NDWR). http://water.nv.gov/DisplayHydrographicGeneralReport.aspx?basin=105
The recharge of the aquifer is in fact estimated at 49,000-acre feet for 2017. However, the water pumpage is estimated at only 23,012-acre feet for that same year (down from 31,284 in 2016), and was approximately 47% of the recharge amount. The 92,000-acre feet value (actual estimate: 103,433.73in 2017) is the Groundwater Commitment of the basin, not the usage. Yes, the Carson Valley basin is over committed; however, there is a reason for that. The largest “manner of use” was agriculture related, estimated at 6,234-acre feet for irrigation and stock watering. Many of the ranch properties have both surface water rights and ground water rights. Surface water being just that, water that is available at the surface, fed through ditches originating from the Carson River. In wet years, the river level is high and fulfills most of the irrigation requirements, thus there is very little pumping required. Conversely, in dry years the river water is low and will not feed enough water for irrigation and pumping is required to make up the difference (as illustrated in the elevated numbers during the drought from 2012 through 20161). Even in the dry years, the most extreme pumpage estimate was 38,043 for 2015. Another reason is that the NDWR calculates the commitment per domestic well to be 2-acre feet annually (AFA) while they commonly approximate the actual use to be only 1 AFA or less.
What do all these numbers really mean?
Let’s put these numbers into something tangible. There are 325,851 gallons in one acre-foot; and according to the US EPA, the average household uses approximately 110,000 gallons per year. Using the most extreme pumpage year of 2015, there was 3,570,349,407 gallons of water remaining in the recharge estimate. Even with dividing the remainder by double the EPA estimate per household, the remainder of recharge alone is equivalent to the consumption of 16,000 households (current estimate of households in Douglas County is 20,579 per US Census Data). Admittedly, this is all speculation based upon estimated values and I am in no way proposing that we add 16,000 homes, but it does illustrate that with careful planning, there is plenty of water in the Carson Valley Basin to sustain our agriculture, environment and growth for a long time.
Although quantity of water is not a crisis, there are other issues surrounding our water supply that must be addressed.
One of the primary issues is the increase in the depth to water level below the land surface. According to well log reports in the East Valley and Ruhenstroth areas, the water level has dropped approximately 30 feet in these areas from 2000 to 2018. This is primarily due to the increasing number of wells in these areas and the fact that they are uphill from the primary source of recharge (Carson River and irrigated ag lands). If you imagine the aquifer is a slushy and you stick your straw in, before long you can draw down the contents around your straw and will have to reposition the straw to continue drinking. The same is true of the aquifer, the number of wells concentrated in one area draw the water down faster than it can replenish from the recharge source, in this case the Pine Nut Mountains. There are solutions to this situation, but they are not simple, quick, or inexpensive. The good news is that the situation is not immediately dire and there is time to enact a solution if we start now.
Another prominent issue is water quality. There are issues with the level of contaminates, the most well-known being arsenic. On January 22, 2001, the EPA adopted a new standard for arsenic in drinking water of 10 parts per billion (ppb), replacing the old standard of 50 ppb. Water systems had to meet the new standard by January 23, 2006 which caused a few local wells to be shut down and others diluted with purer water from other sources (i.e.: water from the Town of Minden). These measures were not necessarily because of an increase in the arsenic levels as many have assumed, but because of a decrease in the allowed levels.
The fact that there is plenty of water is not a free pass for rampant development. Water consumption is something that must be managed prudently to ensure a promising future for the next generations. Various water issues exist in many areas of the county that need to be addressed. Proper research and planning with an eye on the balance of agriculture, the environment and growth is necessary. It is imperative that we contract the USGS to perform a complete survey of the aquifers in Douglas County so we have a clear picture of what exists and the facts to plan appropriately for the future. We need to stop throwing out misinformation and stop the fear mongering. Using fear tactics like “If we don’t use our water, it will go via pipeline to Las Vegas” is not only irresponsible, but destructive. It is true that Clarke County is seeking permission for a pipeline that would move rural groundwater from eastern Nevada to Las Vegas, but they are looking for water from unappropriated sources which as illustrated above by the over commitment, the Carson Valley Basin is not. We need to remember that the one thing that everyone agrees upon is that we want to preserve our rural character and our beautiful setting, it is essential that we work together to achieve this common goal. That said, water is no simple thing, it’s like Mark Twain quipped: “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”
 Recharge of an aquifer is the process where rain, snowmelt, lake or river water (surface water) seeps into the ground to replenish the aquifer (ground water).  Table 1; Carson Valley Hydrographic Basin 08-105, Groundwater Pumpage Inventory, Water Year 2017; Prepared by: Cheyenne Lawrence; http://water.nv.gov/PumpageInventories/105 20-CarsonValley/105 20-2017CarsonValley.pdf  Nevada Division of Water Resources, Groundwater Commitments and Availability, http://water.nv.gov/DisplayHydroGraphicMannerOfUseCommitment.aspx?basin=105  Groundwater Committed is the sum of all permitted, certificated, decreed, reserved, relinquished, revocable, unadjudicated vested claims to groundwater rights, domestic well use commitment, and the groundwater reserve.  United States Environmental Protection Agency; https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water