Tule Desert

Tule Desert Water Rights 

Background

In 1998 the Lincoln County Water District (LCWD) submitted a water rights application in the Tule Desert Hydrographic Basin as part of a proposed project to develop a water conveyance system to deliver water from the Tule Desert and Clover Valley hydrographic areas to the Lincoln County Land Act (LCLA) development area. The purpose of the project is to (1) assist and support the needs of local communities in Lincoln County including the LCLA development area, (2) to meet the needs of future economic development within Lincoln County, and (3) to produce, purchase, wholesale, and transport water from sources inside and outside of Lincoln County to meet customer water needs across the region. The LCWD applied for a BLM right-of-way associated with these water applications.  BLM completed a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on May 1, 2009. A Record of Decision has not been issued by the BLM to date.

Hearing/Protests

The Nevada State Engineer (NSE) held a hearing on LCWD's Tule Desert water applications in May 2002. There were a total of 2 water rights applications totaling 14,500 afy (application #'s 64692 and 64693 for approximately 7,240 afy each), plus an additional application for change of point of diversion and place of use for application #64693. LCWD initially planned to pump 7,240 afy for 42 years for use at the Toquop Energy Project, and then transfer the use of the water to municipal purposes at the LCLA development site.  LCWD requested that the NSE hold in abeyance the remaining quantity until a determination was made from monitoring initial groundwater withdrawals that there are no unreasonable adverse impacts.

The Virgin Valley Water District protested all three applications, and the National Park Service (NPS) protested the two water rights applications.  Prior to the hearing the NPS negotiated a Stipulated Agreement with LCWD. The goal of the Agreement is to manage the groundwater development without unreasonable adverse impacts to the water rights and resources of the NPS.   

Stipulated Agreement Monitoring Plans

The Monitoring, Management, and Mitigation Plan was appended to the Tule Desert Stipulated Agreement (Exhibit A).  The main points are summarized below:

Monitoring Requirements

  • LCWD is required to record discharge and water levels in their production wells in Tule Desert.
  • LCWD will record water levels at selected (near-field) monitoring wells in Tule Desert.  Water levels will be recorded on a continuous basis for at least one year prior to groundwater production.
  • LCWD, in consultation with the NSE, will locate and construct two early warning (far-field) monitoring wells down gradient from the proposed groundwater production.  LCWD will record water levels on a continuous basis at these sites, beginning as soon as possible prior to groundwater production and striving for at least one year of baseline data.
  • LCWD will conduct a detailed elevation survey of all their wells used for monitoring as part of the plan.
  • NPS, in cooperation with USGS, will install, operate and maintain a stream gaging station on the Virgin River within Lake Mead NRA for a period not less than five consecutive years.
  • NPS, in cooperation with USGS, will equip and maintain continuous surface water measurement sites at Rogers and Blue Point Springs.
  • LCWD will collect water quality samples at production and monitoring wells associated with this plan.
  • LCWD and NPS will provide financial assistance to USGS to conduct a seepage run of the lower Virgin River from Mesquite to Lake Mead NRA.
  • LCWD, in cooperation with the Desert Research Institute, will establish, operate, and maintain one precipitation station in the Tule Desert.

Management Requirements

  • NPS will expand the domain of its existing numerical groundwater flow model of the Lower Colorado Flow System if Nevada to include the Virgin River Valley hydrographic area, and to incorporate new geologic and hydrologic information for the Tule Desert hydrographic area.  LCWD will provide geologic, geophysical, hydrologic, and geochemical data. The model will be used to estimate the potential effects of pumping by LCWD on NOS water rights and resources.

Tule Desert NSE Ruling

On November 26, 2002 the NSE issued a ruling on LCWD's Tule Desert water applications (Ruling 5181).  The ruling granted 2,100 afy from application #69643, and the change application for this was also granted.  Application # 64692 for 7,240 afy was held in abeyance as requested pending additional studies.

On April 29, 2009 the NSE issued a subsequent ruling on LCWD's Tule Desert water applications that were held in abeyance under Ruling 5181.  LCWD had completed and submitted results of studies to quantify the amount of groundwater annually recharged in Tule Desert, characterize the direction of flow, and predict any potential effects from groundwater pumping.  After reviewing the material, the NSE granted 396 afy.

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