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Asking for water rights

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By Don Pace

City Manager John Avila is pushing a water plan that would trade the city’s treated wastewater for water rights owned by the school districts.

He told the West Las Vegas school board last week that the two districts have water rights that are of a higher priority than the city’s. He had already spoken to the Las Vegas City Schools board.

“The City Schools and West schools do have water rights that they own — we don’t know all of them, but we think there’s enough there that it will make some impact on our water system,” Avila said. He said the state engineer has said if water rights are not used they are considered abandoned.

Additionally, a transfer to the city would benefit the whole community, Avila said.

Avila said the fact that the school districts have a higher priority is a good thing because if a priority call is made, with those water rights, the city can pull them into its system.

“We can further investigate exactly what your water rights are and how much you’ve lost in historical use because at the end, if you don’t use them, you lose them. Of course, once we get down to the nitty-gritty, we’ll see exactly what the schools want. It doesn’t necessarily have to be water; it could be money and that might help your budget as well. If a sale is not what the board wants to do now, maybe a lease option is also available,” Avila said.

Avila said one thing the city, schools and Highlands University has in common is the reuse of water.

“That water is available and all it’s doing is going down to Texas. It’s completely ours to keep if we had a use for it and that’s why I encourage the schools to look at a trade in the reuse water for water rights,” he said.

Avila said if the treated wastewater — known as effluent — could be used on city parks and all the school athletic fields, the use of potable water for that could be drastically reduced.

“So what we’re looking at here is a possibility of that trade and further development of our effluent line to make sure we actually increase about 1,000 acre-feet to the system,” Avila said.

Board member Christine Ludi asked if some of the existing water rights are in danger of being declared abandoned.

Avila told Ludi that was the case.

Board vice president Gary Gold asked if the school could back out later if there was an agreement.

Avila said if the city and the school district entered into a joint powers agreement, a separate entity would make that decision. However, if it was a transaction between the city and the school, that would be laid out in a contract.

Avila said the district wanted to make sure that it doesn’t lose the value of its water rights.

“Because as you lose those water rights, they’re just taken off the books and any water that’s associated with that is just going down the river. So it’s better to use it in some fashion, whether it be for money or trade.”

Board president Kenny Lujan asked if the city would bear the cost of running new effluent lines.

Avila said the city has already paid for a design study and with interest from the schools, the city could apply grant money it has already received for the project.

“But we need to be able to reuse that water. If we’re just running a pipe for no reason, it hurts our chances in using that (grant money), but if there is an interest to use that water, we can use money that we already have, which is over $500,000 to get that effluent line to the schools,” Avila said.