Nevada Supreme Court rules BLM entitled to water rights for grazing

The state lost the latest round in its historic battle with the federal government over control of Nevada public lands and water on Tuesday, when the Nevada Supreme Court ruling the Bureau of Land Management is entitled to stockwater permits in its own name.

The state engineer had denied BLM applications for more than 90 stockwater permits on public lands saying the federal government was trying to sidestep state control over the water.

Allowing BLM to claim permits for livestock watering in its own name would give the federal government control over who was allowed to use the water at any given time.

BLM officials said under Rangeland Reform, they wanted the ability to obtain water rights and reallocate them to users seeking grazing permits.

The dispute dates back more than 20 years when it was BLM policy to try assert control over development and use of water rights on BLM lands.

As part of Rangeland Reform, BLM filed for more than 90 stockwater permits in the early 1990s.

State officials argued that would take away the state's control over the water. The Legislature agreed and passed legislation in 1995 to protect the state's right to decide who gets livestock watering permits.

The state challenged those permits arguing BLM doesn't issue itself grazing permits and doesn't own cattle that need the water so it couldn't have the permits. District Judge David Gamble in Douglas County agreed.

But the high court ruled that is an unreasonable interpretation of the state law and discriminates against the federal government.

"To said that the United states, the owner of the public land, must issue itself a permit or lease the graze livestock upon the land that it owns is an illogical and unreasonable construction of the statutory language," the opinion says.

It was signed by six members of the court.

Justice Nancy Becker agreed with the ruling but disagreed with the logic behind it, arguing that the Legislative intent of the statute clearly does intend to limit BLM's ability to claim state water rights. She agreed with the the argument, however, that the state's attempt to do so could create "constitutional infirmities" which would force the U.S. Supreme Court to find Nevada's statute discriminatory.

The decision sends the case back to Gamble's court with instructions to grant the petition for judicial review of the state engineer's denial. That effectively means BLM is free to pursue water permits statewide and reallocate them to service grazing permits on its lands.


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