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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Nevada Supreme Court decision shakes up groundwater rights

RENO, Nevada ( Associated Press) — The decision of the Nevada Supreme Court Thursday set a new precedent for how the state can manage groundwater in areas experiencing severe drought.

In a 4-3 ruling ruled Thursday to settle a water dispute in Diamond Valley, a rural farm in Eureka County, the court said groundwater management plans developed in areas that are rapidly losing groundwater may deviate from the long-standing doctrine of water rights. water.

The State Supreme Court said that Nevada’s top water official, a state engineer, has the authority to regulate water in the Diamond Valley area of ​​Eureka County in accordance with a groundwater management plan approved by local farmers and water users, even if that plan deviates from the existing one. state water law. .

Overturning the ruling of the Eureka District Court Judge, the judges ruled that in some cases, water plans may deviate from the long-standing “priority doctrine” that gives additional rights to senior water users who own their land the longest.

The West is experiencing more than 20 years of mega-drought. 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 groundwater depletion, as it cannot be replenished naturally.

As a result, it was designated as a critical management area, the only area in the state to have such a designation.

Because the purpose of the groundwater management plan is to eliminate the area’s “critical” status, the court said the state engineer could take action that deviated from the “priority doctrine,” the court said.

Deviations are allowed only if the plan is approved by both the engineer and the majority of water users within the critical zone, the court said. He called the Diamond Valley management plan a community-based solution to the long-term water shortage in the valley.

“We recognize that our opinion will have a significant impact on water management in Nevada,” Judge James Hardesty wrote to the majority. The decision of the court became known for the first time. Nevada Independent.

“However, we believe that — given the arid nature of this state — it is especially important that we implement the simple intent of the law, which encourages the sustainable use of water,” Hardesty wrote.

Kyle Rerink, chief executive of the Great Basin Water Network, said the decision highlighted ongoing tensions over water use in the West, where doctrines have long divided junior and senior water rights holders.

“This ruling amplifies those tensions,” Rerink said.

This is as farmers in many parts of the state are reconsidering what and how many crops they can grow in the face of drought and rising costs due to inflation.

“When we go and plant seeds in the ground, we risk a lot more than we did last year,” said Eric Hull, CEO of Winnemucca Farms, a Humboldt County facility he called the largest irrigated farm in the state. . “And in harsher conditions with much less water,” he added.

World Nation News Desk
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