Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
In honor of Independence Day, Richmond Times-Dispatch is providing unlimited access to all of our content from June 28th-July 4th! Presented by Brown Distributing

Nevada Supreme Court ruling shakes up groundwater rights

  • 0

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A Nevada Supreme Court ruling on Thursday has set 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 Diamond Valley, a rural Eureka County farm area, the court said groundwater management plans established in areas that are losing groundwater supply quickly can deviate from the longstanding senior water rights doctrine.

Nevada's top water official, the state engineer, has 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 if the plan deviates from existing state water law, the state high court said.

In reversing a decision by a Eureka County District Court judge, the justices ruled that in some cases, water-use plans can deviate from longstanding “priority doctrine,” which gives premium rights to senior water users who've owned their land the longest.

The West is experiencing a more than 20-year megadrought. Scientists say the region has become much warmer and drier in recent decades and that climate change will continue to make weather more extreme, wildfires more frequent and destructive, and water supplies less reliable.

In the agricultural Diamond Valley, severe drought and decades of water overuse have led to battles over a groundwater supply depleted because it is unable to recharge naturally.

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

Because the goal of the groundwater management plan is to erase the area's “critical” status, the court said the state engineer can take action in ways that deviate from the “priority doctrine,” the court said.

The deviations are allowed only if the plan has been approved by both the engineer and a majority of water-users within the critically designated area, the court said. It called the management plan approved in Diamond Valley a community-based solution to long-term water shortages in the valley.

“We recognize that our opinion will significantly affect water management in Nevada,” Justice James Hardesty wrote for the majority. The court ruling was first reported by the Nevada Independent.

“We are of the belief, however, that — given the arid nature of this State — it is particularly important that we effectuate the plain meaning of a statute that encourages the sustainable use of water," Hardesty wrote.

Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, said the ruling underscored ongoing tension over water use in the West, where doctrines long have separated junior and senior holders of water rights.

“This ruling puts a magnifying glass on that tension,” Roerink said.

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

“We’re risking a lot more when we go and put in a seed in the ground than we were last year,” said Eric Hull, general manager of Winnemucca Farms, a Humboldt County operation that he called the largest irrigated farm in the state. “And in a tougher environment with a lot less water,” he added.

Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.


Related to this story

Most Popular

Michigan has agreed to destroy more than 3 million dried blood spots taken from babies and kept in storage. It's all part of a partial settlement in an ongoing lawsuit over consent and privacy in the digital age. Hospitals routinely prick the heels of newborns to draw blood to check for more than 50 rare diseases. That practice isn’t being challenged. The dispute in Michigan is over leftover samples. A blood spot from each child is stored in Lansing while more are stored in Detroit for possible use by scientists. Michigan must get permission from parents to use spots for health research. But attorney Philip Ellison argues that the program might not be constitutional. And the agreement to destroy some blood spots doesn’t end the lawsuit.

Fourteen smaller environmental justice organizations from around the United States have begun to receive money under the Justice40 initiative. The initiative is to improve the environment in disadvantaged communities and help them prepare for climate change. The Biden administration committed to funneling 40% of all investments in climate and environment to communities that live with the highest environmental burdens — diesel soot, lead water pipes, lack of access to green spaces to name a few. But navigating the federal system is a barrier for some groups most in touch with those communities. A business incubator has bridged the gap and and several million dollars for renewable energy, climate resilience and access to healthy foods has begun to flow.

NASA wants its moon dust and cockroaches back. The space agency has asked Boston-based RR Auction to halt the sale of moon dust collected during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission that had subsequently been fed to cockroaches during an experiment to determine if the lunar material contained any sort of pathogen that posed a threat to terrestrial life. NASA said in a letter to the auctioneer that it still belongs to the federal government. RR said Thursday that the material from the experiment was expected to sell for at least $400,000, but has been pulled from the auction block.

A heat wave that's already lasted more than a week keeps on baking the US, Asia and even the Arctic. At least nine US states Thursday hit 100 degrees, that's after 12 did that on Wednesday. Records keep falling. A city in the Russian Arctic hit nearly 90 degrees. This early summer heat wave looks and feels more like August. Scientists say it has all the hallmarks of climate change. In Macon, Georgia, the temperature ramped from 64 to 105 degrees on Wednesday and then hit 104, a further record, on Thursday.

A federal court has put a temporary hold on the government's order for Juul to stop selling its electronic cigarettes. Juul filed the emergency motion so it can appeal the sales ban from the Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington granted the request later Friday. A day earlier, the FDA said Juul must stop selling its vaping device and its cartridges. The agency said Juul didn't give it enough information to evaluate the potential health risks of its e-cigarettes. In its court filing, the company disagreed, saying it provided enough.

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Listen now and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | RSS Feed | Omny Studio

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News