Legislature leaves domestic wells alone
June 6, 2017
The Legislature adjourned on Monday night without approving two controversial measures that would affect Nevada's domestic well owners.
A measure to allow the state engineer to reduce the amount of water individual well owners could use in times of extreme drought died early on in the session.
The engineer's ability to shut down domestic wells in basins under curtailment is being challenged in the Nevada Supreme Court. Senate Bill 271 was being sought as a measure to allow well owners water in those instances instead of shutting them down entirely.
However, the law has never been tested. Many Nevada hydrologic basins are overappropriated, but have yet to be overpumped. State law prohibits mining ground water.
A second bill, Assembly Bill 298, was a proposal by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to lay out the definitions of certain terms and a detailed monitoring, management and mitigation process in statute. Despite attempts to work on the language, the bill died in the face of extensive opposition from environmentalists, sportsmen, ranchers, farmers, rural residents and governments, tribes and businesses. This broad group of stakeholders feared the language was too permissive and would lead to more of the state's groundwater basins becoming over-allocated.
"The fundamentals of Nevada's water law are strong," said Howard Watts III, communications specialist with the Great Basin Water Network, one of the groups in opposition to the proposed changes. "There are already strong definitions for these terms and processes as a result of regulations, agency orders, and case law. The best immediate step we can take to preserve the state's water resources is to follow that law."
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After AB298 failed to garner enough support and died on May 19, legislators considered amending some of its concepts into another water bill, SB47. That effort was dropped in the final week of the Legislature. Great Basin Water Network and others applaud that decision.
Several water bills did pass the Legislature, cleaning up language and making minor improvements aimed at increasing conservation. Among the highlights were Assembly Bill 138 by Maggie Carlton, which officially legalizes the collection of rainwater, and Assembly Bill 209 by James Oscarson, creating opportunities for water rights holders to conserve in times of scarcity without being penalized. Several recommendations from the Governor's Drought Forum and Legislative Commission's Subcommittee to Study Water were ultimately enacted into law.