Editorial: No need for murky water law changes

Two bills proposing to alter water use policy are pending in the Nevada Legislature. They are at best problematic.

Assembly Bill 30 appears to give the state engineer greater leeway in the use of monitoring, management and mitigations — known in the jargon as 3M — to resolve conflicts in water rights. The language is rather vague and subject to interpretation.

Assembly Bill 51 appears to give the state engineer more flexibility in what is called conjunctive management of water. While current law treats surface water and groundwater as interchangeable in a basin in the scheme of allocations, AB51 tells the state engineer to adopt regulations that mitigate conflicts between the two water sources.

Nevada water law is based on the concept of prior authorization, in other words the first one to use a water resource has priority or senior water rights. Those who come later, if there is enough water available, have junior rights that must yield to the senior rights if supply becomes inadequate for any reason.

The Great Basin Water Network, an organization that has been fighting attempts for years by the Las Vegas Valley water provider to tap groundwater in eastern Nevada basins, suspects these two bills are intended to give the state engineer the flexibility needed to allow the project to reach fruition.

GBWN says the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s $15 billion groundwater importation plan would pump 58 billion gallons of groundwater annually in a 300-mile pipeline to Las Vegas. They say the Bureau of Land Management has estimated the project would irreparably harm 305 springs, 112 miles of streams, 8,000 acres of wetlands, and 191,000 acres of shrub land habitat.

A federal judge has so far blocked the water grab from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys, saying the state engineer failed to establish any objective criteria for when mitigation — such as halting pumping — would have to be initiated. The engineer plans to appeal that ruling, but a change in state law could moot that.

GBWN questions the effectiveness of the two bills’ calls for monetary compensation and water replacement to make whole senior water rights owners.

Abby Johnson, GBWN’s president, says in an op-ed she has penned for area newspapers, “From ranchers to environmentalists, there is a consensus that we don’t need to fix what isn’t broken. Nevada water law has served Nevadans well for more than 100 years and continues to serve the public interest. That success, however, has stymied a select few.”

The select few, Johnson says, include real estate developers and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which has “not had much luck in recent years getting what they want under the current legal and regulatory framework. Why? Because what they want is to facilitate unsustainable over-pumping of the state’s fragile, limited groundwater resources.”

She adds, “ The problem –– for all of us –– is that they want water that either doesn’t exist or already belongs to someone else.”

Johnson further charges that the change in law would grant the state engineer “czar-like powers to unilaterally choose winners and losers without regard to senior water rights holders’ existing property rights … which would mire Nevada water rights owners and the state government in complex and unpredictable litigation for years.”

Assemblyman John Ellison of Elko released a statement saying the bills would constitute an unconstitutional “taking” of water rights and said a recent hearing saw a consensus of opposition from industry, ranchers and farmers and not one person testifying in support of either bill.

“We cannot allow an unelected bureaucrat to wield this much power over one of our state’s most precious resources. I’m reminded of the famous Mark Twain quote, ‘Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.’” Ellison said. “I will never stop fighting for the rights of senior property rights owners in my district and throughout Nevada.”

Though Twain probably never said that, it sounds like something he would say and is apropos to the current situation. AB 30 and AB51 need to be sent down the drain.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

 

26 comments on “Editorial: No need for murky water law changes

  1. […] Source: Editorial: No need for murky water law changes […]

  2. Bill says:

    It has happened before where a distant metropolitan thirst gets quenched by taking water away from a distant source and thereby depriving that area and its people from any present or future utilization of their own areas resource. The history of Los Angeles and Owens Valley, California is a well known historical fact which formed the plot line for a fair movie called Chinatown.

    People in the rural areas should be alarmed about changing existing law and empowering a potential water czar with broad authority and loose legislative language.

  3. Rincon says:

    I don’t know as much as you do about Nevada water, but since the public water system uses only 18% of the available water, and irrigation for agriculture uses almost 70%, is it possible that you have the wrong bad guy here?
    https://guinncenter.org/how-does-nevada-use-its-scarce-water-resources/

  4. Anonymous says:

    Need to concentrate on how southern Nevada uses water in comparison to how central and northern Nevada use their groundwater.
    Southern Nevada is the “public” portion while central and northern Nevada is the “agriculture” portion. There’s a whole lot of open space out here.
    Southern Nevada relies on the Colorado and we return about 75% back to the river.
    Central and Northern Nevada rely on their own ground and river water. It’s really a separate system that southern Nevada is trying to tap, much like southern California did to their central valley back in the day.
    I hope we don’t make the same errors California did.

  5. Steve says:

    I did it AGAIN!

  6. Bill says:

    Rincon, a table showing usages has nothing to do with the issue. The issue is whether or not it is right and proper for one area to take the resources of another area and use them to benefit themselves to the detriment of the area deprived of their own resource to the detriment of the present and future inhabitants of their own area?

  7. Bill says:

    Right on Steve.

  8. Steve says:

    Thanks, Bill.
    In spite of recent messaging out of the Las Vegas Valley Water District indicating no need for any outside water sources for the coming 50 years, I fear we are going to do exactly what California did.
    It smells like a bait and switch.

  9. Bill says:

    The basic objective of Las Vegas to obtain more water sources has never changed nor will it ever. They are saying that they have no need for outside water sources for 50 years in the future? If my memory serves me, Las Vegas has been fighting for and over water for the last 40 years. Water is essential to growth and development. What has changed?

  10. Anonymous says:

    The RJ took a deep dive on the subject in 2015.
    Bottom line is Las Vegas returns almost all of the indoor use water back to the lake and new construction has been progressively more and more efficient every year. Also new homes have no front yard grass and only 50% of back yard is allowed to have grass at first sale.
    With the new “straw” the valley could get water from a “dead pool” condition.

    https://www.reviewjournal.com/business/housing/water-isnt-a-worry-when-it-comes-to-las-vegas-growth/

  11. Bill says:

    Interesting “Why Worry?” story by the RJ. If true, why is Las Vegas still coveting the water sourced in the rural counties? The story might have been written by Alfred E. Neuman.

  12. Steve says:

    They are quoting the head of the LVVWD, John Entsminger has made much the same statement in several interviews over the last few years.
    It’s not just no worry’s, that’s why I say this smells like a bait and switch.

  13. Rincon says:

    While it doesn’t make sense for the people of southern Nevada to suffer water deprivation when one farm sucks up as much as perhaps 10,000 people, it still isn’t kosher for the majority to just grab it and leave farmers stranded. Would it be feasible for Clark County to just buy some farms and then stop irrigation on them and send an equivalent amount of water to the south? Then they would also have a place for their solar panels unless there’s some desert tortoise of sage grouse to worry about 🙂

  14. Sounds like capitalism.

  15. Bill says:

    Abandon Farms Rincon? Sell any rights to water needed for those farms? I guess we could do that. But then, where do we get the products that are raised on farms?

    If we strip the water from the farms what do we do with the barren abandoned land? Build housing developments? Can’t do that, because the water that the housing inhabitants might need for cooking, washing and other domestic uses will already be gone to Las Vegas.

    Maybe you have an idea here. Why waste water on agriculture? After all, most Americans think that the supermarkets are the origin of all foodstuffs.

  16. Anonymous says:

    More than 20% of the agricultural products Nevada produces are exported so, China First I guess when it comes to Nevada and “our” water.

    Otherwise, what Nevada mostly produces is alfalfa or hay for cows and sheep. Any idea how much water it takes to produce alfalfa? A lot and most of them delicious cows and sheep ain’t feeding Nevadans, instead, forgetting entirely about the 20% of AG exports going to mostly China feeding communists;) Nevada’s water is just making a very few farm families in Nevada real wealthy all while the rest of us are getting thirstier and thirstier.

    Seems wrong to me.

  17. Bill says:

    Nevada does grow alfalfa. Alfalfa is an important cover and rotational crop. Not only does alfalfa help prevent soil erosion, but it also protects and improves the soil with its protective canopy, deep root system, and ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Soil erosion is a major problem in agriculture.Much of the hay produced in Nevada is sold to dairy operations in surrounding states. It also goes into the manufacture of feed pellets for other farm animals and is fed straight or mixed with other nutrients in feed lots that produce animal protein.

    Nevada alfalfa cubes and bales are exported to other states and overseas.. Alfalfa seed is another substantial crop. Additional crops produced in Nevada include potatoes, barley, winter and spring wheat, corn, oats, onions and garlic. You can’t plant them year after year on the same ground, hence rotation and soil enrichment by growing alfalfa. Nevada also produces honey and alfalfa provides nectar for the production of honey.

    Most farmers and ranchers that I have met over the years are not really monetarily rich and most must cultivate their bankers for operational loans as well as their crops. Big agribusiness may be different but just our typical farmer or rancher who puts in long hours for an often uncertain reward isn’t getting wealthy.

    Fortunately our agriculture producers have become more efficient which is a blessing as the supply of arable land is being diminished by developments. But what the hell, lets do as Joni Mitchell suggests in Yellow Taxi.

  18. Bill says:

    For anyone interested you might find the following link interesting.

    https://www.nass.usda.gov/…/stateOverview.php?state=NEVADA

  19. Steve says:

    This is interesting.
    Dr Sarah Taber
    @SarahTaber_bww
    Crop scientist. Ex-farmworker. Follow for intersection of tech, bio, biz, & people stuff behind it.

  20. Rincon says:

    Fine, you want to keep each and every farm. I do too. So what is the alternative answer that you propose?

  21. Let farmers sell water to the highest bidder. Or not, as they choose.

  22. Bill says:

    There is a lively market for buying and selling water rights as opposed to just selling water. Water itself is not usually bought nor sold.

    It is water rights that are sold. Many farms and some ranches depend upon ground water mined via wells on the land. The readily marketable “water rights” are from rights to use water from sources such as rivers, streams or ditches.

  23. Rincon says:

    I think I could support something like that, although my Illinois vote means nothing in Nevada.

  24. Rincon says:

    I forgot to mention that farmers might be able to have their cake and eat it too. Many would be able to sell much of their water and just raise less thirsty crops – or animals.

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