Nevada legislature may change water law

Las Vegas water pipeline. SNWA credit.

Water law in the American Southwest is an arcane mix of complicated laws, often enacted decades ago when few lived here. Everyone knows the laws need to change. However, water users often resist change because they may end up with less allocated water than before.

Nevada has three Assembly bills pending that could change state water law dramatically. The backdrop of this is rural water users with senior rights are afraid the Southern Nevada Water Authority may use new laws as a way to grab water from the Great Basin and send it three hundred miles by pipeline to Las Vegas. Which indeed is exactly what SNWA wants to do.

The Nevada Independent details the laws.

Mitigation, management and monitoring. AB 30.

If water is taken from someone with senior rights, it can be replaced by other water. The problem is there may not be replacement water. Also, senior rights users will probably view this as a leading wedge to dissemble their rights.

Such plans deal with conflicts through mitigation. If pumping groundwater dried up a spring, a 3M plan would mitigate the user reliant on the spring by providing replacement water or another type of mitigation. King said the plan is used in other states. The challenge in Nevada is that, because of its aridity, replacement water can be difficult to come by and hard to move. The concept would be to require mitigation that would keep users with senior rights whole.

Groundwater and surface water are connected, AB 51.

Yes, use science! Groundwater and surface water are interdependent parts of a whole and must be treated that way.

The idea is that groundwater pumping can affect the amount of water in springs, and the amount of water in streams can affect how much groundwater there is. Assembly Bill 51 would allow the state engineer to enact regulations to pursue the “conjunctive management” of aquifers and rivers as one resource. These regulations would allow the state engineer to come up with a conjunctive management program in basins and levy an assessment to fund mitigation.

“We are trying to harmonize the law with the science”

Use it or lose it. AB 62.

Change the law so users with water rights have to use the water within in reasonable period of time. If not, they lose the rights. Utah already does this.

Under Nevada law, water users are required to put their allocation to beneficial use for ranching, mining, drinking water or a long list of other permissible purposes. If a water user does not put its allocation to use, that user risks losing the claim. But in reality, many water rights are never used. They exist only on paper. And that’s because the statute provides for several exceptions.

The state engineer is hoping to close some of those loopholes.