Paiute Tribe blasts Bryan letter | RecordCourier.com
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Paiute Tribe blasts Bryan letter

Sheila Gardner

The chairman of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe called a letter from Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nevada, to federal officials “disturbing and disappointing” regarding enforcement of the Alpine decree that regulates distribution of Carson River water.

In a May 15 letter to the senator, Tribal Chairman Mervin Wright Jr. said the correspondence to Interior and Justice department officials was sent without providing the Paiute Tribe an opportunity to discuss the issues related to enforcement of the decree with Bryan.

“I would hope and expect that you would at least provide the Tribe the same opportunity to present our side of the issue, especially if you were or are thinking about becoming involved by and through sending letters to the Interior and Justice Departments,” Wright wrote.

Bryan said in an interview from his Washington office on Wednesday that he would be willing to meet with the Paiute Tribe.

“I’m not aware that any meeting has been requested,” he said.

“I would simply say it was the Paiute Tribe that initiated the correspondence to the departments of Interior and Justice. The purpose of my letter was to inform those departments that, indeed, before they accept any of the contentions the Tribe has raised, they needed to talk with those charged with administering the decree as well as the water users along the Carson and get their views as well,” Bryan said.

In his letter, Wright told Bryan that issues regarding the enforcement or non-enforcement of an existing federal court decree should be addressed by responsible officials in the executive and judicial branches of the federal government.

“This kind of issue should not become politicized,” Wright said.

The letter exchange is the latest in the correspondence which began last December when the Paiute Tribe’s attorney, Robert Pelcyger, wrote to federal officials claiming that the Alpine decree is not being enforced properly, causing detriment to the Pyramid Tribe.

Pelcyger claims that water from the Carson River is being wasted, diversions and deliveries are not controlled and the applicable decrees are being disregarded. He wants federal officials to look at the river’s groundwater supplies, traditionally and legally under the jurisdiction of the state.

Carson River water users are concerned that if Pelcyger successfully challenges groundwater rights, the Carson Valley could dry up because all the water would go to the Lahontan reservoir.

In his May 15 letter to Bryan, Wright said the Tribe has worked hard to establish good working relationships with everyone who has an interest in Truckee and Carson River water issues.

“In fact, on May 2, several Tribal representatives and I attended a meeting with representatives of the Carson Valley water users and state officials. That meeting was arranged at my request to Mr. Pete Morros (head of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources),” Wright said.

Wright denied that the Paiute Tribe is seeking to change or preempt Nevada groundwater law.

“That is not true,” he wrote to Bryan. “There is an issue about whether Nevada law is being properly administered, but the Tribe is not claiming that Nevada law is superseded by federal law and is not seeking the amend existing state law.”

Members of the Carson Valley Water Authority, who met Tuesday, described the May 2 meeting with the Paiute Tribe as “somewhat productive.”

“They didn’t understand why we were so upset,” said Tom Cook, chairman of the CVWA.

Minden water engineer Jim Vasey who is coordinating the water authority’s response to the Paiute Tribe’s challenge, said Wright’s letter to Bryan indicates the issue is far from resolved.

“In my opinion, the letter indicates the Tribe is intent in pursuing all issues,” Vasey said. “I recommend we proceed with all due haste to do the work necessary to protect the Alpine decree from the challenge by the Paiute Tribe.”

Vasey presented the water authority with a work program and tentative budget of $6,000 per month, plus $72,000 for continued administrative and legal work, 50-year population and water use forecasts, identification of lands with Alpine decree surface water rights, Carson Valley Water Authority mapping program.

“It is not enough to merely rely upon the Alpine decree or state groundwater law,” Vasey said. “It is important to develop all available information to validate and affirm the propriety of the Alpine decree, both now and in the future, and to develop information, both legally and scientifically, regarding the separate attributes of groundwater.

“It should be understood if we get involved in litigation, the $6,000 figure will have to be revised upward,” Vasey said.

The water authority, which includes the Town of Minden, Gardnerville Town Water Co., expressed concern that the Paiute tribe has unlimited federal funding.

The water authority’s budget so far includes $20,000 from the Town of Minden and $5,000 from the Gardnerville Town Water Co.

Douglas County is ready to contribute $100,000 from the seven-cent water tax as soon as commissioners approve membership.

“We’re looking at a long, long, long-term funding mechanism,” said Jacques Etchegoyhen, county commission chairman. “This is bigger than anything we’re doing.”

He told the water authority that the county would hard pressed to proceed with a proposed $5 million pipeline under discussion to make Minden’s extensive water supply available to airport and North Valley water users.

“I’d hate to see us spend $5 million on a pipeline and have nothing come out of it when we turn it on,” Etchegoyhen said.

Bryan said Wednesday he was sympathetic to the water authority’s financial fears.

“I think the water users are concerned about the seemingly inexhaustible financial resources the Tribe could bring to bear and what impact that could have on them,” Bryan said. “They’ve looked at the Truckee situation with all the litigation that occurred and see that as something that could happen to them.”

That is why, Bryan said, he wrote to the federal departments.

“I think it is important for the departments of Interior and Justice – before they make a determination – not to simply rely on one party’s interpretation of what has occurred.

“I am sympathetic to the water users,” Bryan said. “These people have complied with the terms of the decree and are relying on the provisions when all of a sudden, there is the prospect that they may all be up for grabs in some kind of judicial arena in which those on the other side appear to have limitless resources.”