In Nevada, water is for fighting, and a recent Nevada Supreme Court ruling on water rights priority is no exception.
The seven justices split 4-3 on a challenge to a plan to reduce water consumption in Diamond Valley in Eureka County.
Let’s start with the key question, “How does this ruling affect Carson Valley?”
From our reading of the ruling, it doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t.
Diamond Valley has been mining water for 40 years, something that is a basic affront to Nevada’s water law.
It was designated critical seven years ago and subject to curtailment, which prompted the creation of a groundwater management plan.
That plan allowed the State Engineer to reduce water usage across the board and prompted a challenge by senior water rights holders.
According to the majority opinion, the rights holders failed to come to court with any indication that their water rights had actually been affected or that they were vested by being in place before 1912.
The opinion specifically said they could refile once they had evidence that their actual property rights had been affected.
Diamond Valley is the only water basin in Nevada that has been designated as critical. There are others on the horizon, but before curtailment can begin, a basin has to have 10 consecutive years of demonstrated water mining.
There are around 100,000 acre-feet of paper rights in Carson Valley, almost twice the recharge rate of around 52,500 acre-feet. Valley water users rarely use more water than the recharge rate, even in very dry years.
That’s because around half of those paper rights are supplemental groundwater rights held by irrigators, who would rather not use their resources pumping water unless it’s absolutely necessary.
The majority opinion is razor thin and could well go the other way come Jan. 1. The only way to know is to wait, watch, and pray for rain.