The tiny community of Littlefield, sandwiched in the northwestern corner of the state on Interstate 15 between Nevada and Utah, has never been much more than a pit stop for those racing to Nevada’s casinos.
There is a bar, a school, a convenience store and cottonwood-lined Beaver Dam Wash that slinks through the community of about 1,500 residents.
But the groundwater beneath the wash is the subject of intense concern among the locals in what one state official called an unprecedented attempt by corporate interests in Nevada to take water from Arizona.
Wind River Resources, a Nevada corporation, has filed an application with the Arizona Department of Water Resources to pump as much as 14,000 acre-feet annually from the Muddy Creek aquifer to quench the thirst of rapidly growing Mesquite, Nev. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons.
The casino town near the Arizona line has an estimated population of 15,000, but recent land trades that brought federal Bureau of Land Management land into the private domain, allowing it to be developed, is expected to rapidly increase Mesquite’s size.
On top of that, Wind River Resources wants to blend imported Arizona water with Mesquite’s groundwater, which has high levels of arsenic, and possibly export some of that water back to Arizona, according to the application with the Water Resources Department.
“This falls very squarely into the category of a bad idea,” said Kris Mayes, a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates many water companies in rural parts of the state. “Arizona’s groundwater should stay in Arizona. . . . I believe this unprecedented proposal has the potential to negatively impact at least one water company regulated by this commission.”
According to state statutes, water can be taken out of Arizona for a “reasonable and beneficial” use in another state with a permit of not more than 50 years if approved by the director of water resources.
A public hearing will be held by the Water Resources Department at Littlefield in late November, said Jack Lavelle, a department spokesman. Mayes said she wants the Corporation Commission to become an official intervener in the case and hold a town hall meeting in the Beaver Dam area about the water proposal.
In a letter to the Water Resources Department, Phoenix attorney Maxine Becker wrote that any delays in the hearing beyond mid-December would be a “significant hardship” for Wind River Resources and those living in Mesquite, “who are in need of certainty of their future water supply.”
But Bob Frisby, president of Beaver Dam Water Co., said the real hardship would be on the Arizona side if the groundwater left for Nevada.
“They are trying to evaporate this community,” Frisby said. “We have a lot of potential for growth here along I-15, and the water in Arizona should be used for that so we can incorporate and grow and contribute to the tax base of Arizona, not export it all to Nevada.”
Jack Riley, a Las Vegas developer who bought 2,000 acres along 1-15 near Littlefield, said he wants to build a master-planned community.
“I bought that in large part because of all the excellent groundwater so near the surface on the Arizona side,” Riley said. “So now we’re up against a group who has made out in their filings with the Water Resources Department like no one lives there and it’s just a desert wasteland that Mesquite should be able to use as it sees fit.”
Meanwhile, Mike Winters, general manager of the Virgin Valley Water District in Mesquite, which provides water to the city, said he would welcome the water if Wind River provided the infrastructure to deliver it.
“We have access to 12,000 acre-feet of water we are permitted annually and are currently using 5,500 acre-feet for the 19,000 customers we are delivering water to now,” Winters said. “We can serve 40,000 to 45,000 people here with water supplies we know we can get.”
Winters said the only reason Mesquite officials are looking at the Arizona water is because “they (Wind River) said they could deliver it for us over the long term to the state line with their equipment.”
“Our cost analysis showed our own water would be cheaper any other way,” he added.