Las Vegas Sun

November 21, 2017

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Nevada Supreme Court to expedite water rights case

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Supreme Court has agreed to speed up its consideration of the appeal of a lower court ruling to stop the Southern Nevada Water Authority from pumping water from rural areas of eastern Nevada.

Kay Brothers, deputy general manager of the water authority, said its legal brief is due Feb. 3 and the court has agreed to an expedited schedule.

Her statement was made today to the Legislative Committee on Public Lands.

If the authority loses, state engineer Tracy Taylor would need to consider more issues regarding drawing water from the Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys, said Allen Biaggi, director of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Senior District Judge Norman Robison ruled in October that the decision by the state was “arbitrary, oppressive and a manifest abuse of discretion.”

Biaggi said at issue is the annual recharge of water in these areas. Robison said Taylor's decision failed to provide evidence on how much more water would be available in the future.

Meanwhile, Biaggi told the committee that Nevada has approved an agreement to divide the water in the Snake Valley in Eastern Nevada, near Utah. He said it is still waiting for the signature of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.

The negotiating teams for the two states reduced their initial prediction of 132,000 acre-feet in the valley to 108,000 acre-feet without harming existing water rights.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has applied for 50,679 acre-feet to pump to the Las Vegas area to serve a larger population, but its application will be held until Sept. 1, 2019.

The valley lies in White Pine and Lincoln counties in Nevada and in portions of five counties in Utah. Most of the rain and precipitation is in Nevada but most of the use is in Utah, Biaggi said.

Under the proposed groundwater agreement, Utah would receive 55,000 acre-feet for its present use and Nevada would get 12,000 acre-feet. Of the unallocated portion, Nevada would be allowed to take 35,000 acre-feet and Utah 6,000 acre-feet. There would be 24,000 acre-feet held in reserve – with Nevada having 19,000 and Utah 5,000.

State Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, questioned why the Legislature wasn't involved in these negotiations and agreements. He said water has become a “larger component” in each legislative session.

Biaggi said this was an issue for the executive branch of government.

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, questioned the position of Dean Burke, a large landholder in this area in Nevada. Biaggi said Burke is “adamantly opposed” to the proposed pipeline to Southern Nevada. But Biaggi said Burke feels the agreement is a good protection for existing water rights holders in Nevada.

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