Recent Nevada SC ruling could affect water rights decisions

By Kathy Woods | Feb 8, 2010

Nevada Supreme Court building

CARSON CITY, Nev. (Legal Newsline)-Nevada's recent Supreme Court ruling could have severe consequences to thousands who previously had been awarded water rights.

The opinion stated that the justices conclude that "pending" applications are those that were filed within one year prior to the enactment of the 2003 amendment. And that the state engineer could not take action on them under the 2003 amendment.

In a recent Las Vegas Review-Journal story, acting State Engineer Jason King warned that almost 15,000 water rights issued between 1947 and 2002 could be affected.

"I can't even fathom it," King was quoted as saying. "There would just be so much litigation. It would be gridlock."

Within a week of the high court's decision the engineer's office in Carson City received a flood of water rights applications. 200 came in from water managers - that's 50 more than the office usually sees in a month.

Many of the applications were resubmissions that had not previously been acted on within one year, as the law requires, the newspaper reported.

The majority of filings came from the Southern Nevada Water Authority as it seeks permission to pump enough groundwater to supply Eastern Nevada's homeowners.

John Entsminger, deputy counsel for the authority, called it "prudent" for the agency to refile the applications, some of which were granted years ago.

Entsminger also said, "I want to be clear: There's nothing in the Supreme Court's order that specifically says permits are implicated, but there's also nothing that says they aren't."

The application fee is $300, which is not refundable, which will mean approximately $50,000 in revenue for the state's general fund and $10,000 for Nevada newspapers that will be publishing public notices on the filings.

In order for the Supreme Court to reconsider their ruling a motion must be filed within the next two weeks.

A motion is expected in this case even if it is just so that the justices can clarify their decision.

Supreme Court Justice James Hardesty had written in the opinion that what the justices had to decide was a narrow, yet fundamental question: Whether the State Engineer violated his statutory duty under Nevada statue of ruling on water appropriation applications within one year of final protest date or whether the case fell under the new statute which was amended in 2003.

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