Nevada Legislature: Bill could affect water users across state
March 2, 2019
CARSON CITY, Nev. — A bill that could affect virtually every Nevadan who gets drinking water from a well has been introduced in the Assembly.
Assembly Bill 51 would require the State Engineer to develop regulations for the joint management of surface and ground water in a basin.
Using "conjunctive management," the engineer would order studies of hydrologic basins to determine how groundwater pumping affected surface water rights.
In Nevada, priority of water use is based on seniority of water rights. Because most surface water rights were already appropriated before people started drilling wells in Nevada, those rights are senior, according to engineer Bruce Scott in a memo to Douglas County commissioners.
"In almost any basin, the latest surface water right has a priority superior to the earliest groundwater right," he wrote. "This means that pumping any well will almost certainly have some impact on surface water rights."
He said the State Engineer is starting with a $3 million study of the Humboldt River Basin being done by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Desert Research Institute.
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Similar studies will have to be paid for in the Carson, Truckee and Walker river basins, if the bill is approved.
"This bill … authorizes the State Engineer to levy a special assessment against the taxable property of water users to administer the program," Scott said. "It also allows the State Engineer to levy a special assessment against groundwater users for the purpose of compensating senior surface water users who experience 'injurious depletion' of their rights."
Groundwater is the chief source of drinking water for every Douglas County resident living outside of the Lake Tahoe Basin.
"The policy of conjunctive management of surface and groundwaters is effectively turning the water law on its head," Scott wrote. "Essentially every surface water right in a river basin will be impacted by groundwater pumping to some degree."
Public Works Director Phil Ritger told commissioners at their February meeting that the bill would have a major impact in Douglas County.
The bill was heard by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining on Wednesday, Feb. 27.