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Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Nevada Supreme Court ruling shakes groundwater rights

RENO, Nev. ( Associated Press) — A Nevada Supreme Court ruling on Thursday sets a new precedent for how the state can manage groundwater in areas with severe drought.

In a 4-3 ruling issued Thursday to settle a water dispute in the rural Eureka County farm area Diamond Valley, the court said groundwater management plans established in areas that quickly lose groundwater supplies deviate from the long-standing water rights doctrine. May be.

The state high court said that Nevada’s top water officer, the state engineer, has the authority to regulate water in the Diamond Valley area of ​​Eureka County under a groundwater management plan approved by local farmers and water users, even though the plan is in the current state. Beware of water law. ,

Reversing the Eureka County District Court judge’s decision, the justices ruled that in some cases, water use plans may deviate from a long-standing “priority principle” that gives premium rights to senior water users. who have the longest ownership of their land.

West facing drought for more than 20 years, Scientists say the region has become much hotter and drier in recent decades and climate change will make weather more extreme, wildfires more frequent and destructive and water supplies less reliable.

Agriculture In Diamond Valley, severe droughts and decades of water overuse have resulted in depletion of groundwater supply as it is unable to recharge naturally.

As a result, it has been designated a Critical Management Area, the only area in the state to have such a designation.

Because the groundwater management plan aims at alleviating the “critical” condition of the area, the court said the state engineer can act in ways that deviates from the “priority principle”, the court said.

The court observed that diversion is allowed only if the plan has been approved by the engineer and majority of the water-users within the critically designated area. It described the approved management plan in Diamond Valley as a community-based solution to the long-standing water scarcity in the valley.

“We believe that our opinion will significantly impact water management in Nevada,” Justice James Hardesty wrote for the majority. The court’s decision was first reported by Nevada Independent

Hardesty wrote, “However, we believe that – given the arid nature of this state – it is particularly important that we effect the clear meaning of a statute that encourages the sustainable use of water. “

Kyle Roerich, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said the ruling underscores ongoing tensions over water use in the West, where principles have long separated junior and senior holders of water rights.

“This decision puts a magnifying glass on that stress,” Roerich said.

It comes as farmers in many parts of the state are redrawing what and how much crops they can grow amid rising costs due to drought and inflation.

“We’re taking a lot more risk when we go and seed the ground than we did last year,” said Eric Hull, general manager of Winnemucca Farms, the Humboldt County operation, which he called the largest irrigated farm in the state. “And in tough environments with very little water,” he said.

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