Las Vegas Sun

May 24, 2019

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Nevada legislators immersed in water issues this session


John Locher / AP

In this July 28, 2014, photo, lightning strikes over Lake Mead near Hoover Dam, which impounds Colorado River water.

Water and water rights have been a continuing topic of debate in the Nevada Legislature, and 2019 is no different. Here’s a breakdown of various bills under consideration:

Groundwater and surface water plans

A bill backed by the State Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Division of Water Services would give the state engineer the ability to create mitigation plans to aid in conflicts between surface water and groundwater users.

The engineer would also have the ability to create a management plan for drainage basins — areas where rainwater and snow melt collect and run into a body of water.

Water appropriation and conflicts

As of now, if a permit is requested to use water on land where there is no unappropriated water available, the state engineer must deny the request.

A bill has been introduced, however, that would allow the state engineer to approve a plan worked out between the parties involved. In short, if a developer needs to use water from a source that is already spoken for, they could work out an agreement with the water rights holders.

Water use for long-term projects

Projects that involve water appropriations are given a deadline to complete water-related work by the state engineer’s office. But the office can grant an unlimited number of deadline extensions of up to five years.

One proposed bill would limit extensions on projects involving municipal water to a total of 15 years, those involving a diversion of two or more cubic feet of water or cultivation of 100 acres of land to a total of 10 years, and any other project to a total of five years.

Groundwater restrictions

Currently, if a basin uses more water than is renewed, the state engineer can declare it a critical management area. If the designation remains in place for 10 years, the engineer is required to restrict withdrawal of water to priority rights.

Another proposed bill would allow domestic wells in such situations to continue drawing up to half an acre-foot of water annually, if a water meter is installed on the well.

An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land in a foot of water — about 325,851 gallons.

Water supply reservation

There is currently no limit on water requests: If there is unused water, a request can be made to the state engineer to use it.

A proposed bill would require the state engineer to hold back at least 10 percent of the water remaining unused in a particular source as of July 1. The reserve would only be accessed in emergencies, including droughts.

Municipal water planning

A bill has been introduced requiring municipalities to generate plans that would identify water resources and ensure they are compatible with projected demand.