Buyer Of Tiny Nevada Town Finds Plentiful Water Underground

CAL-NEV-ARI, Nev. (AP) — There isn’t much in Cal-Nev-Ari besides a cluster of homes, some businesses and an unpaved airstrip.

But the town’s new dominant property owner believes the desert outpost might have something else: an underground river of sorts that doesn’t run dry.

Jerry Tyler, president of mining firm Heart of Nature, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal there appears to be something like a river flowing beneath the remote community south of Las Vegas, and that it replenishes when water is pumped out.

“We could have an unlimited amount of water,” he said during an interview in Cal-Nev-Ari’s casino and restaurant building. “It’s not like there’s just one amount that once we take it all out, we’re out.”

Tyler’s group controls a speck of a town off U.S. Highway 95 that many people in Las Vegas, some 70 miles (112 kilometers) away, have probably never heard of or stopped to see. But the buyers could be sitting on plenty of water in a region grappling with drought.

Tyler doesn’t know how much water flows beneath Cal-Nev-Ari. But the quality is high, and the natural resource was a big draw for the buyers, he said during a recent telephone interview with the Review-Journal.

“The quality of the water, and the potential abundance of it, was a key reason why we bought the town,” he said.

Heart of Nature majority owner Universal Green Technology acquired the bulk of Cal-Nev-Ari in late July for $8 million from town co-founder Nancy Kidwell, buying just over 550 acres (220 hectares) of mostly vacant real estate.

The town’s water provider, Kidwell-owned Spirit Mountain Utility Co., boasts 32.8 million gallons (124.2 million liters) of annual water rights. It uses far less, having sold nearly 9.5 million gallons (36 million liters) last year, state records show.

Fred Marik, a former listing broker for Kidwell’s holdings in Cal-Nev-Ari, said the water quality is “phenomenal,” and he indicated several prospective buyers had viewed it as something that could be sold.

Cal-Nev-Ari’s water system uses a 200,000-gallon (757,000-liter) main storage tank and a network of service lines. It supplies 123 customers, the vast majority of which are single-family homes, according to a 2019 filing with the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada.

Just 244 people lived in Cal-Nev-Ari as of 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

Kidwell, who is in her 80s, sold her holdings after years of trying. She told the Review-Journal she never assessed the volume of water underground.

But, she noted, she pumped plenty of water for Nevada Department of Transportation projects, and the wells never drew down.

Kidwell and late husband Everette “Slim” Kidwell founded Cal-Nev-Ari in the mid-1960s, having noticed its then-abandoned airstrip while flying by. They acquired 600-plus acres (243-plus hectares) from the federal government and named the town after its home state and the two nearby.

Kidwell is selling the water company to Tyler’s group, a deal that requires approval from the Public Utilities Commission, she said.

The buyers already acquired hundreds of acres of land in Cal-Nev-Ari, including its airstrip, RV park, mobile home park, motel, convenience store and casino and restaurant building.

Tyler, who sells products for the agricultural industry, plans to build a 100,000-square-foot (9,290-square-meter) processing facility in Cal-Nev-Ari and would use water for his business, including for liquid fertilizers.

He also envisions more restaurants, a larger hotel and homes for staffers who work at his plant. He wants to pave the airstrip to attract more pilots.

Water is a pressing issue in the fast-growing desert metropolis of Las Vegas, underscored by the visible bathtub ring at nearby Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir.

Lake Mead supplies about 90% of southern Nevada’s water and is set to experience its first federally declared water shortage next year, triggered by water level projections that will force Nevada to slash its allocation of Colorado River water in 2022.

In Cal-Nev-Ari, however, Tyler said his group is “pretty confident” it won’t run out of water anytime soon.

“When you look at this dry desert, the last thing you think about is water,” he said, “but there’s quite a bit of water under the ground.”