Las Vegas Sun

May 25, 2019

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Special legislative session advocated for water rights

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Legislature should be called into special session soon to clarify confusion created by the Nevada Supreme Court on thousands of water rights, say advocates for homebuilders, organized labor and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Julie Wilcox, representing the water authority, told a public hearing that “a legislative fix is appropriate” as soon as possible.

The televised hearing that attracted more than 100 people in Carson City and Las Vegas on Tuesday was sponsored by the state Division of Water Resources. It will make recommendations to Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Jessica Prunty, an attorney representing NV Energy, Helen Foley of Pardee Homes in Las Vegas, Michael Johnson of the Virgin Valley Water District, Danny Thompson of the Nevada AFL-CIO and former state engineers Mike Turnipseed and Hugh Ricci, all supported calling the Legislature into special session.

The Supreme Court in January ruled the state engineer’s office failed to follow the law and make a ruling on the application of the water authority in Spring Valley in Eastern Nevada within the required one year after the close of protests.

It overturned the decision of District Judge Norman C. Robison who affirmed the decision of the state engineer’s office for approval of 40,000 acre-feet a year from Spring Valley. An acre-foot is equal to 325,851 gallons.

Immediately after the Supreme Court ruling, the water authority refiled 146 applications in rural Nevada to acquire an estimated 250,000 acre-feet to serve populous Clark County.

There are thousands of pending water rights in which the state engineer’s office has not made the decision within one year. Officials say these water rights may be in jeopardy.

Those opposing a special legislative session included Simeon Herskovits, representing the Great Basin Water Network, which had filed suit against the water authority getting the water in Spring Valley.

Herskovits, of Advocates for Community and Environment, argued there was no danger to water rights already issued. He said there has been “a fair amount of exaggeration” in reading the impact of the decision by the Supreme Court.

He suggested the decision applied only to the special set of circumstances in the Spring Valley case. “Rushing to a legislative response is inappropriate,” he said.

He said Judge Robinson should be able to “craft a remedy” that would impact only the one case.

He was joined by David Baker of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, who suggested the courts make the decision and the issue not be thrown into a special session.

Acting State Engineer Jason King says there were 7,004 applications granted past the one-year deadline between 1947 and 2002. He said these approved water permits could be affected.

Most speakers said they did not think those already granted would be impacted by the court’s decision. Prunty said she doesn't think the court’s decision extends to existing rights.

She said the protest period could be reopened for certain applications that have been pending. And she said it should be clear that the date of filing the original applications should stand in priority.

After the Supreme Court decision, certain groups filed new applications for water rights to supersede those who had previously submitted their applications.

Johnson, whose Mesquite Valley Water District encompasses Mesquite and Bunkerville in Clark County, said the Supreme Court misinterpreted the law and “there should be a legislative fix as soon as possible."

The hearing was conducted by Susan Joseph Taylor, who said the testimony and recommendations will be considered and a recommendation made later.

The special session of the Legislature didn't deal with the confusion because of the deadline, but directed the state agency to hold a hearing and come up with a solution.

Meanwhile the state and the Southern Nevada Water Authority have both asked the Supreme Court to rehear the case and clarify its ruling.

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