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High cost of settling water lawsuits

by Christy Chalmers

Carson Water Subconservancy District leaders expect to learn the price of settling troublesome lawsuits over water use along the lower Carson River during a special meeting Tuesday.

District manager Ed James said an appraiser hired by the district to calculate the value of water rights will present his findings.

The information will be used as a basis for implementing Assembly Bill 380 – landmark legislation approved earlier in the year that could mean an end to more than 2,500 lawsuits over water use in the Fallon area.

The 1999 Legislature approved the bill, which establishes the Subconservancy as the lead agency for implementing it. The Subconservancy District covers the Carson River watershed areas in Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Churchill counties.

The bill established the Newlands Project Water Right Fund and $13.5 million to buy 6,500 acre-feet of disputed water rights that have been exercised in the Fallon area. The use of the water had been challenged by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which wanted more water to feed Pyramid Lake.

Successful implementation of AB380 could ward off potential lawsuits against upstream Carson River users, who have expressed concern that they would be next if the Paiutes successfully sued the lower Carson users.

James said he hopes Tuesday’s meeting will give leaders an estimate for the project’s cost, with more detailed action at the group’s next regular meeting in August.

“Our goal is hopefully to get the procedures finalized at the next board meeting (in August) and then do a couple of test cases and see how they work,” said James. “Once they’ve gone through, we can decide if we need to change the process.

“I’m hoping we’ll be buying water rights by the end of the year,” he added.

Douglas County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, who is a member of the Subconservancy board and also a ranch manager, said he regards AB380 with mixed emotions.

Etchegoyhen said he’s encouraged by the cooperation some of the affected entities have displayed but wary of the Paiute’s lawyer, Robert Pelcyger.

“I kind of think this will keep things on the up and up for a while. I don’t have any allusions that it’s over,” said Etchegoyhen. “I do think some of (Pelcyger’s) true motives and intentions are becoming clearer. The issue isn’t really about the environment or Pyramid Lake, it’s billable hours.”

Etchegoyhen and other Douglas leaders have been nervous about possible Paiute litigation for the past two years. They have publicly worried the Paiutes would begin a lengthy lawsuit challenging local use of the river.

What: Special Carson Water Subconservancy District meeting

When: Tuesday, 4:30 p.m.

Where: Bonanza Room at the Carson City Community Center, 851 E. William St., Carson City.

Information: 887-7450