Water Shortages, Water Rights and Nevada’s Great Basin Water

The Great Basin is unique when it comes to water because the rivers have no outlet to the sea. 


It is made up of many smaller drainage basins.   

There is a complicated system of hydrology below the very interesting geology and topography of fractured, tilted plates of the Earth’s crust, that make up the Great Basin. Often referred to as Basin and Range because those tilted plates create mountain ranges that run from north to south. As the Earths crust stretched, cracked and tilted, it created large dry valleys or basins between the ranges. These basins can be compared to bowls that collect the snowmelt off the mountains. The alluvial fans are like great sponges, absorbing the meltwater into the ground. The snowpack is the primary recharge for the aquifers.   

Nevada and the Great Basin is divided by the Nevada State Engineers Office into 256 ground water basins, some are “designated basins“. Designated basins, when it comes to water, may only be open to additional allocations for preferred uses, like municipalities for additional pumping.   

Scientists are and have been measuring water table levels, spring flow rates, and precipitation for many years. We know pumping affects water table levels. We know the average precipitation, but then that is history. Today drought is in the news and many scientists believe more drought is likely in our future, due to climate pattern changes taking place. Future recharge rates are speculative.   

They know the maximum consumption allowed by the existing recorded water rights. Not all basins are decreed and some additional rights could be out there and are not recorded but valid. Domestic wells are generally not considered, no permit is required to drill a domestic well, and they are limited to two acre feet per year in consumption.   

The terminology of Hydrology seems very complicated, at least for this layperson. The science, like most science attempting to make future projections is speculative, especially the flows between the many basins and the aquifer recharge rates. New discoveries in all science fields rewrite what we thought we knew as fact, everyday.   

Unfortunately, we may not have the answers to some of the most important questions until the water tables have dropped and the Seeps and Springs are gone. The scientists can not tell us when the flow rates of Seeps and the Springs may slow, or even dry up. The truth is they can only speculate. They do not know how drought will affect recharge rates of the aquifers, and they certainly do not know how long or severe the drought may be. There is far more that science is unsure of, than there is that can be actually guaranteed.   

July 27, 2010 at the Aspen Institute’s Environment Forum, Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt at the “Hot and Dry: Water in the West and the World,” told the audience,   

given all the hyping in the national and local and regional press.”  hard to believe“Water scarcity is an issue, not everywhere, but in some regions. The American Southwest is not one of those regions where there is water scarcity. It’s


This is right in line with Pat Mulroy’s statement when she said, “The hyperbole (hyper exaggerations) coming from rural Nevadan’s about their water table concerns was childish.” You have to wonder what motivates Mr. Babbitt to say such a stupid thing, but then Pat Mulroy was also on the three person panel with him, and they were in Aspen Colorado. A poster child for conspicuous consumption and environmental lunatics. These are people who would like to tell you how many children you are allowed to have, and how large your carbon footprint can be, as they fly off in their private jet. They are asking for more of your dollars in the form of Obama’s Green stimulus money. Watch the forum videos!   

They have already spent $ 80 Billion Dollars on Green stimulus bailout, and by the way, Harry Reid is claiming credit for the few short term jobs in Nevada this money created in his political race against Sharron Angle.   

Southern Nevada Water Authority has proposed a pipeline from Las Vegas through Lincoln County and continuing into White Pine County on to the North. The Las Vegas Valley water district, now SNWA, filed 146 ground water applications in 1989 for undeveloped, unproven ground water in Eastern Nevada. This spark has lit the fuse for the battles to come. They do not at this time have approval for the water needed to supply this pipeline.   

The Colorado River Compact allows Las Vegas 400,000 acre feet of water from Lake Mead. On average, one acre foot will supply two homes per year. A study by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego said there’s a 50 percent chance that Lake Mead, could run dry by 2021. In the last ten years Lake Mead has dropped from around 1200 ft. to below 1100 ft. today. At 1050 ft. Hoover Dam will stop generating electricity, and at 1000 ft. Las Vegas will lose the lower intake for the city‘s water supply.   

Currently Lake Mead (The Colorado River) supplies 90% of the water to the Las Vegas Metro area. The Colorado River serves Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah, and Mexico, over 30 million people live in this region. We now know that based on the twenty year river flow study leading up to the Colorado River Compact in 1922, the river was over allocated by one million acre feet when the compact was signed and the shortage has only become worse.   

The NASA/German Aerospace Center Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (Grace) study has found since 2003 the aquifers for California’s primary agricultural region the Central Valley and its major mountain water source the Sierra Nevada have lost nearly enough water combined to fill Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir. This area represents nearly one sixth of all the United States irrigated land and the dropping water tables have the potential to have huge implications to the US economy.   

None of this news is new , in fact the warnings have been ignored for over one hundred years. Panelists Bruce Babbit, Pat Mulroy, Sandra Postel and The Aspen Institute’s Environment Forum are apparently more interested in advancing their agenda than dealing with facts and truth.   

John Wesley Powell told the International Irrigation Congress in Los Angeles in 1893,  

water to supply the land.”  sufficient“You are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over the water rights, there is no


Many, many scientific studies today are clearly confirming his thoughts.  

I wonder what John Wesley Powell would think today?   

How limited are your water resources?  


You Will Never See the Whole Picture by Looking at One Piece of the Puzzle

Let’s start with the easy pieces, the edge pieces, the positive aspects of the current housing market.

Home sales are up in Mesquite, Nevada from 15 closings in January 2009 to 39 in January 2010, huge increase in closings. Price per square foot dropped from an average of $120 in January 2009 to $100 per square foot in January 2010. This was stimulated by Federal tax dollars in the form of tax buyer credits that would be your money!

Single family new home building permits are up in Mesquite from 1 in January 2009 to 22 in January 2010. That adds to the competitiveness of the market, the supply side.

Trying to keep it positive here, mortgage interest rates are still near historic lows.

The Home Builders Index of confidence rose 2 points to 17.  A score of 50 or more on the index indicates that more builders view conditions as favorable rather than unfavorable.

Access Research & Consulting Inc. estimates that the number of mortgage brokerage firms is down from a peak of 53,000 in 2004 to less than 15,000; this may be a good thing.

Now we can start into the middle of the picture, the harder pieces of the puzzle.

Realty Trac reported January 2010 foreclosures were above 300,000 for the eleventh straight month, and up 15% from January last year. US Home ownership is back down to levels not seen since 2000.

Private mortgage insurance companies are dropping like moths flying into the flames of a blazing fire. Short sales and foreclosures are literally wiping them out.

Mortgage underwriting standards are getting tighter everyday, shrinking the pool of eligible qualified potential home buyers. Even FHA has made it tougher to qualify for a mortgage. This piece is part of the demand side.

By most industry estimates, there are eight million delinquent mortgages in the US today and only a very small percent of the mortgage modifications are actually working. The re-default rate continues to climb. Only 66,000 are considered permanent of 900,000 of those who are enrolled in trial modification programs.

3.4 million Homes in the Treasury Department’s Making Home Ownership Affordable (HAMP) are currently 60 days or more delinquent.

There are a half trillion dollars of mortgages still out there that will reset or adjust over the next twenty four months. Many of these homeowners are not prepared for the higher cost of housing headed their way. There will be far too many more foreclosures.

The picture is coming together, but there are still some pieces missing.

The shadow inventory is out there in various forms, and the number of homes sitting vacant is at a historic high. Many are owned by institutions, others are owned by individuals, all are waiting for the market to improve. Then there are the sellers who would like to sell but can not or will not sell at current prices. At some point they will have to liquidate this inventory.

We should all hope Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the others will slowly ease this inventory into the market. Some industry experts believe it could take as long as three years for the market to absorb this shadow inventory of homes.

If they dump a wave or waves of distressed property into the market, it will drive down prices further and create a huge opportunity for those in a position to capitalize on the low prices.

The Federal Reserve’s 1.25 trillion dollar fund set up to buy mortgage backed securities is nearly spent. Without the support of this emergency fund, the secondary mortgage money market is bound to drive rates higher for consumers.

The effect of higher interest rates is to make housing less affordable and reduce the buyer pool, again reducing the demand side.

What the real estate market needs is jobs and time. Jobs will help people stay in the homes they currently own. Jobs will slow foreclosures, help mortgage modifications work, and create new demand.

Time will heal credit, time will clear inventory, and in time the market will find balance again.

Now step back and look close, with all the pieces of the puzzle in place. Where do you think the market will go over the next six months, twelve months, and twenty four months?

Remember Mesquite, Nevada is a prime retirement community with a very bright future offering a low tax structure, excellent weather with nearly constant sunshine, premiere golf courses, excellent outdoor opportunities, gaming and all located within an hour’s drive of Las Vegas.

Chris W. Miller

Independence Realty

Mesquite NV 89027


Land in Nevada

Nevada Water Rights

Mesquite Market


Lincoln County Land Market

Nevada Ranch Properties

Mesquite Nevada Real Estate 2010 Style

A lender recently told me, 80% of the buyers he is pre-qualifying can not get a loan.

I have a nagging fear that our real estate markets as we have known them throughout the last 70 years will not be restored until the Federation gets back to its foundation. The nation was built on principles of individual liberty, individual responsibility, and free enterprise. As a democracy we elect officials to represent us, uphold the Constitution, and follow the laws, today they appear to be doing few of these things. 

The majority of the money currently being loaned as mortgages is government backed, through FHA, HUD, USDA, VA and in the secondary markets of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae. Yes a conventional bank or mortgage broker may take your loan application but virtually all the loans are being sold into these government agencies. The private secondary mortgage market has become nearly non existent at current rates. Fannie and Freddie were not designed to be slush funds for bad decisions or funded long term by tax dollars. In order for the Mortgage companies to continue to lend at current rates the US government may have to EXPLICITLY guarantee these agency (MBS) Mortgage backed securities cash flow investments. 

The government regulations have gone from “making homes affordable” think: Bush administration, ACORN, and the repeal of Glass-Steagall, although it goes back much further in history. To today’s consumer protection laws, making it much more difficult to get a loan. When the government exits the mortgage business, rates will go up. 

The federal reserve has spent 1.122 trillion of the 1.25 trillion given it to buy (MBS), the program is scheduled to end March 2010, along with the “Home Buyers Tax Credits”. The federal reserve can keep rates low for the banks to make huge profits on short rates but it really has limited control of the ten year and longer end of the bond markets which effect mortgage rates more directly. 

2.8 million Foreclosures hit the market in 2009. Fitch ratings have warned that in the next twenty four months another one half trillion dollars in prime, Alt-A, interest only, option arms, and sub prime mortgages will adjust or recast and many of these are middle and upper middle class families. Creating unsustainable payment shock for millions more Americans and millions more foreclosures. Distress in real estate tends to lead to more distress, and finding a bottom may involve unemployment numbers. 

RealtyTrac says “No End in Sight”. 

This is ALL about unsustainable debt, consumer debt, state level debt, federal level debt, and out of control spending. 

Back to the start, the Federation is governed by laws; states are required to balance budgets, consumers are required to make mortgage payments or suffer the consequences. Our elected officials can not save home values, they can not keep people living in more home than they can afford, they can not put people in more home than they can afford and expect them to make it, and they can not modify people into a home they could never afford in the first place. They are throwing our good money after trillions in bad money. They, the elected officials, must be held accountable for bringing our children’s nation to the brink of bankruptcy. 

When the dust finally settles and the unrealized losses are all on the books, the wealth effect in dollars lost will be staggering beyond any numbers currently being discussed, the effects will last generations. These losses will show up in places like pension funds of all kinds, 401k plans, other retirement accounts, sovereign wealth funds, and many of the world’s governments. States with budget deficits and falling tax revenues will be asked to cover more and more of the federal debt burden. 

None of this is good for the current home price market today or tomorrow. The median price home sold in Mesquite during the forth quarter 2009 dropped to $192,063 or $118 per square foot.  The median priced condo sold for $75,000 or $70 per square foot, and the median priced town home sold for $108,000 or $78 per square foot. 

Ego, greed and monetary policy have taken us down the wrong path. Government intervention and efforts to manipulate the market created the environment for the crisis to occur; now it threatens to prolong and deepen the damage. We as a country must quit spending money we do not have, buying homes we can not afford, and curb government spending programs. And until we as a nation get back to a free and open market, principles of individual liberty, individual responsibility, and free enterprise,   I believe recovery is unlikely. 

Real recovery can only begin with honesty at every level, at home, in business, and most importantly at the government level. In my humble opinion we have little chance of any real sustainable financial recovery until we accept these facts and principles and then, act on them. 

Expect real estate values to continue to drop more in 2010 due to the massive amount of distressed inventory of properties sitting out there and coming to the market. 

Chris W. Miller  has 33 years in the real estate industry, was trained and worked as a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and currently specializes in Irrigated Nevada land  with water rights with ERA Brokers Consolidated in Mesquite Nevada. He can be reached at 702-346-7200 or chris@mesquitemarket.com