Agenda Item VIII, “The Discussion of Current Issues In Nevada Water Law,”
during last week’s Public Lands Interim Committee meeting offered the clearest look so far at what the Nevada State Engineer has in mind for the next Nevada Legislative session. It appears to be more of the same from what we have been dealing with from attempts in the last two sessions to change Nevada water law, primarily aimed at responding to over-appropriated groundwater basins throughout the state.
In his presentation, he provided details on the status of the state’s 256 groundwater basins.
These two slides
offer a very telling view with the first page – “Ratio of Committed Groundwater Resources to Perennial Yield By Basin” – identifying the degree to which basins are “over appropriated”…light blue shading shows basins that are more than 100 percent committed and the dark blue colored basins 200 percent above perennial yield levels. The second page of the maps offers a look at the pumpage percentages with the purple highlighted basins 100 percent above perennial yield.
Knowing what and where problems exist is one thing – figuring out a solution to address those problems is another. The “theory” of Nevada water law is that with over-appropriation and impacts on senior water right owners, the State Engineer is supposed to curtail by priority. Reaching the point of over-appropriation and when attention is supposed to be acted on, the law provides for designation of the basin as a “Critical Management Area” and the clock is started for the development and implementation of a Groundwater Management Plan. At this point there is one such basin designated and while a locally developed Groundwater Management Plan has been developed, it has also been challenged as not following state law.
We’ve indicated that the concept of addressing over-appropriation through curtailment by priority is a “theory” of Nevada water law. It may say that is what supposed to happen, but it has not been carried out to this point. In some cases, going in time, applications for additional water rights have been granted, knowing that the balance of perennial yield was being exceeded.
The outline for anticipated future legislative initiatives seeks “a more robust statutory framework to provide stakeholders the ability to create and adopt a groundwater management plan for approval by the State Engineer.” Adding to this call for “new tools” the point is made that the statutory framework “needs to allow for maximum flexibility in terms of what tools can be used to bring a basin back to a sustainable level.”
While including the need for “creative solutions to encourage water conservation” – an additional point which is identified calls to “explore programs to allow for the acquisition of water rights.”