Let it flow: Camp owners restore stream, amid ongoing legal challenge
By Robin Hebrock Pahrump Valley Times
August 4, 2022 – 12:49 pm
Victor and Annette Fuentes have officially started the process of reopening the Carson Slough following years of waiting for a federal agency to do as it was ordered.
Finally, at their limit of patience, the husband-and-wife team, who own and operate the Patch of Heaven Christian Camp in Nye County, hosted a press conference of sorts on Saturday, July 30 to celebrate their decision to restore their water themselves.
Patch of Heaven is a 40-acre parcel of private land located within the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. When Victor and Annette first purchased the property, it was a lush oasis in the desert, with plenty of water flowing in channels running through the site and filling ponds used for camp activities.
That all changed in 2010 when Fish and Wildlife altered the Carson Slough, diverting the water around the Fuentes’ property and turning it into a dust bowl. In addition to the lack of water, the Fuentes’s then had to deal with unusual flooding occurrences that they said were a direct result of the alteration of the slough.
With no alternative, the two took legal action that resulted in a years-long battle between the Fuentes’s and Fish and Wildlife. That conflict seemed to have come to an end in 2017 when the federal agency was ordered to return the water to which the Fuentes’s had a senior vested right. But Fish and Wildlife never took action to restore the water so Victor was preparing to take a tractor out and do it himself.
Victor and Annette were joined by several dozen supporters on July 30 and the gathering at the Christian camp opened with an invocation.
“We come before you with humbleness in our hearts to ask you for protection for today, to ask you to give us the ‘OK’ for today, Lord Jesus, and I thank you for each and every one of my brothers and sisters, members of the community, who have showed up here today in support of the right of Patch of Heaven,” Victor prayed.
Those assembled for the event then stood up and faced the American flag for the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, after which both Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly and Nye County Commissioner Debra Strickland were invited to speak.
Wehrly read from documentation detailing the Fuentes’ right to nearly seven acre-feet of water from the Carson Slough, remarking, “So that’s his permit to have the water come through his property. And it seems that he has been doing everything that he possibly can to get that done.”
Next, Wehrly read a document outlining the warning notice sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in which the Nevada state engineer had determined that the federal agency was violating the law through its action of diverting the flow of the Carson Slough. In that letter, Fish and Wildlife was ordered to cease the full and complete diversion of the surface water that should move through the Patch of Heaven property. That order came with the possible penalty of a fine of up to $10,000 per day per violation, as well as other consequences, none of which have materialized.
Strickland stepped up to the microphone following Wehrly and she was evidently fired up about the reason everyone was assembled that morning.
“We have rights, and the rights have been taken from this man,” Strickland declared, indicating Victor. “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting. You know it, it’s been like that since the beginning of time. Nothing has changed here. We’re still fighting for the water!
“When did the feds decide that all things belong to them? No way, Jose, ain’t going on no longer,” Strickland continued. “This is the time… And Victor, Annette, you are brave people and we are so proud of you for that. Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to watch you take back your right.”
At that point, Victor requested that Wehrly call Fish and Wildlife to ask a representative of that office to come down to the camp and talk over the situation. “Let’s reconcile this, let’s talk. We want to see their response,” Victor announced.
Fish and Wildlife, however, was not amenable to going to the camp but a representative did invite the Fuentes’, Strickland and Wehrly to their office. The discussion, however, apparently ended without the reconciliation that Victor was aiming for. Not deterred from his mission, he and Annette returned to their land and Victor headed out to the area that had been backfilled to divert the Carson Slough, to begin the task of reopening the waterway to its historic flow path.
This is no simple matter, either. It will take time and patience for the couple to safely and successfully complete the operation but they fully intend to see the historic flow path of the Carson Slough reinstated in the coming days.
Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at [email protected]
On a dark night in 1991, I jumped into the ocean off the coast of Cuba and swam nine miles to Guantanamo Bay to ask for political asylum. I had no future in Cuba. My mother had multiple sclerosis, and I hoped that if I became an American, I could bring her here and get her better treatment.
The U.S. government sent me to Las Vegas, where they sent many Cubans trying to get a start. I worked as a dishwasher in a casino and met the woman who became my wife.
I had hoped to earn enough to bring my mother to America, but I soon realized I could not. Others in my situation turned to selling drugs. I didn’t want to get in trouble, but I wanted to save my mother, so I sold drugs too. Soon I was arrested.
I went to prison, where I found redemption. I found the Lord. When I was released, I went to the church a fellow prisoner had told me about. I worked with the youth, with gang members so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes. Because of my experience in prison, they listened to me.
Eventually, I was ordained. In 2004, my family moved to Pahrump, a town outside of Las Vegas, where we began a Bible study. We wanted to offer something to help young people who are addicted in our community. We didn’t have money; we went by faith. My wife and I work for the glory of God. I am retired from the labor union, and my wife is retired from the casino, so that’s how we get by.
One day we saw a camp for sale in the Ash Meadow Wildlife Reserve and decided to go see it. The owner wanted a price we couldn’t afford. That’s when one of our parishioners who we didn’t know had money stepped forward. She bought the site and gave it to the church.
That’s how Patch of Heaven came to be. Our people worked hard to build it up. Churches from all around started holding retreats here. They would baptize people in our pond, just as we did.
We can no longer baptize people in our pond because the government stole our water.
U.S. Fish & Wildlife controls most of the land in Ash Meadow, and in 2010, they unlawfully and illegally diverted our water. They didn’t have permission from the Army Corps of Engineers or Nevada agencies, which they are required by law to obtain. They held public meetings about their supposed plans but did not disclose their true intentions.
Then they took our water. Everything dried up.
Three days before Christmas, our property was flooded as a result of their poor engineering.
In Cuba, there is no process. They take what they want, and that’s it. I never thought that would happen to me in America. It was like a knife in my heart. We aren’t doing anything wrong. We are helping kids, and adults get better.
We went through the legal process because we wanted to do the right thing. We had faith that we would receive justice. But 11 years after the government took our water and destroyed our property, our request for damages was denied. We had physical evidence from a local hydrologist with decades of experience. The government had a computer model from one of their experts in D.C. The judge decided to trust the computer model.
Right now, we cannot find relief from anybody. The government will not pay us for the damage it caused. It will not give us back our water.
This government is not working for the people. It is like what I left behind.
What is a patriotic American supposed to do?
Victor Fuentes is pastor of Ministerio Roca Solida in Nevada.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.