Nevada Mining Association representatives testified Thursday they believe a Senate bill on water budgets targets the mining industry. One of the bill’s sponsors, Great Basin Resource Watch, said that’s not so.
“The challenge we have with this bill is it’s not a serious bill,” said the association’s vice president, Dylan Shaver. “The bulk of the bill is targeting one industry.”
Great Basin Resource Watch Director John Hadder said the bill “is not designed to target the mining industry,” but the bill closes a legal hole and is an important water management tool. He said he would be willing to work with the mining association.
Allen Biaggi, a consultant for the Nevada Mining Association, explained in testimony before the Senate Natural Resources Committee that mine dewatering is required to reach ore bodies, and mining companies obtain temporary permits for the water used in mining.
He said the mining industry already provides details to the state engineer on the water pumped, which goes back into the aquifer or is discharged to the surface or substituted with other water rights.
Biaggi said an amendment to the bill that would limited temporary water rights to five years would have a “chilling effect” on the mining industry. Biaggi is a former director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The bill, SB231, requires the state engineer to prepare a water budget and inventory of groundwater for each basin in the state. The bill also requires applications for mining permits to show how mines would use the water, and requires the state engineer to post information on consumptive use of water by the industry on the internet.
“We see this as a water management issue. We think all water should be included in the budget,” Hadder said about the bill also backed by the Progressive Leadership Alliance.
One amendment to the bill states that the state engineer prepare a water budget for each basin in the state using the amount of groundwater appropriated, including decreed, certified and permitted water rights “regardless of whether the water appropriations are temporary in nature.”
This amendment also calls for an estimate of water used by domestic wells and the estimate of the amount of water available for appropriation in a basin.
State Engineer Jason King testified in support of the bill and an amendment that he said would clearly show state policy is the conjunctive management of all waters in the state.
King said, however, that he opposed the amendment limiting temporary permits to five years.
He said the “lion’s share” of the bill’s requirements are already done by his office, but if the bill should pass, his office would include in applications for water rights that the applicant show how much water would be for consumptive use and how much would be returned to the basin.
Bennie Hodges of the Pershing County Water Conservation District said the Humboldt River is the county’s key water source, and the district tries each year to estimate water supplies from streamflow and snowpack. He said since roughly 2005-2006, the district “comes up short” because of over -pumping in the basin.
“We think the state engineer should get all over-appropriated basins back in balance,” he testified in support of the SB231.
Michael Baughman, executive director of the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority, said the authority wants to see the conjunctive use provision in the bill.
Also Thursday, the Senate Natural Resources Committee passed two bills sponsored by Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka.
SB370 requires that any heliport constructed for hunters must be accessible by a public road to eliminate the possibility of helicopters landing and taking off from remote areas to drop off and pick up hunters.
Goicoechea said when heliports received approval in Elko County for skiing in the Ruby Mountains that pointed to the need for a regulation focused on hunting.
Larry Johnson of the Coalition for Nevada Wildlife testified that “we as sportsmen are very concerned with ethical chase and methodology. We try to maintain fair chase requirements and regulations” for hunters, he said.
“This language will close a loophole,” said Tyler Turnipseed, chief game warden.
The other bill, SB251, calls for financial aid for small, mainly rural, gas stations so they can meet new federal standards going into effect in October 2018 to prevent leakage from petroleum storage tanks. The money would come from a state fund already in place that uses fees from gasoline sales.
Goicoechea said there are a number of rural gas stations “struggling to maintain their stations and their systems. We’re talking about prevention rather than cleaning up a spill.”
Nevada Division of Environmental Protection Administrator Greg Lovato testified the cost for aiding the stations would be $30,000 to $90,000, compared with $658,000 to clean up a spill.