Litigation in Pyramid Lake case moves to Minden

The Town of Minden has succeeded in moving litigation from Fallon to Douglas County challenging the community's right to transfer water.

Churchill County District Judge David Huff granted a motion April 16 to change the venue of a Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe challenge of Minden's authority to transfer water rights.

The litigation - expected to go on for years - will be heard in Douglas County District Court.

Attorneys Michael A. Gheleta and Gary M. Kvistad, hired by the town to fight the Pyramid Lake challenge, filed a motion to dismiss the litigation or to change the venue.

Huff agreed to the venue change.

"I'm pleased," said Minden Town Board member Robert Hadfield. "Part of our overall defense strategy was to get out of Churchill County into Douglas where the impact obviously is. I am very pleased to learn the judge has accepted our motion and reassigned the case."

Hadfield said the change of venue was sought because the water rights in question are in Carson Valley.

With 10,000 acre-feet of water rights, Minden owns the largest holdings on the Carson River valued at $129 million.

Litigation could tie up water right transfers for 10-15 years, officials have said.

Hadfield said the town also was working to increase a $500 bond posted by the tribe against damages to the town. Officials believe the figure should be much higher.

"Quite simply, they (the tribe) indicated by the $500 figure this was of no consequence, that it isn't costing anybody any real money. That whole implication diminishes the high stakes that are in this litigation," he said.

"It's important the (bond) number indicate the seriousness of the possible damages that could be inflicted by these individuals on the water transfers being tied up indefinitely," Hadfield said.

In late October, State Engineer Tracy Taylor rejected the tribe's move to block 19 separate applications to move or change existing water rights in Douglas County.

He ruled that the fact some Carson River water owners weren't using their full allotment, allowing the excess to flow to the Newlands Project, doesn't give the tribe and others the legal right to the water in the future.

Taylor said the tribe failed to make a legal connection between its Truckee River water rights and groundwater rights in the Carson Valley.

Just before Thanksgiving, the Paiute tribe appealed the state engineer's finding in federal court in Reno and in district court in Churchill County.

The appeal continues to bring the Douglas County water transfer requests to a halt.

Tribal lawyers argued Carson Valley's groundwater is "severely over-appropriated" and that more groundwater use means less flow in the Carson River to Lake Lahontan.

That means more diversions from the Truckee River resulting in less water to Pyramid Lake, the tribe claimed.

The town expects the issue to be argued up to the U.S. Supreme Court.


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