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Proposed Changes In Nevada Could Give State Engineer More Authority Over Water Rights

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Farmers and conservationists are oftentimes at odds with one another over politics and policy. 

But that wasn’t the case when a legislative committee heard proposed changes to water law in Nevada.

Assembly bills 30 and 51seek to give Nevada’s top water official more options when it comes to settling disputes over water rights. 

Many who oppose this legislation think it will lead to a water grab from urban development in southern Nevada. 

Bradley Crowell is the director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Crowell said AB 30 would address issues with water rights that haven't been fully appropriated, while AB 51 would address conflicts with existing water rights. 

According to Crowell, the bills would clear up conflicts within existing water law.

"There is one chapter in the law that says if there is a potential conflict, you must deny that right," he said, "And then, there is another section of our water law that says if there is a potential conflict you can mitigate that conflict. We are stuck between those two realities."

Crowell said that conundrum often leads to costly litigation and court battles.

Opponents of the bill, however, argue that if passed, the bills could lead to the green-lighting of one of Southern Nevada's most controversial water proposals: the Las Vegas pipeline. 

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has proposed a pipeline to bring water from the groundwater aquifers of rural Eastern Nevada down to Las Vegas. 

Crowell said the bills have nothing to do with the pipeline.

He said the bills would not fundamentally change the dynamics at play in the continued debate over the pipeline.

"And quite frankly, the issues with regard to the Southern Nevada Water Authority's pipeline proposal is now fully in the realm of the courts and that wouldn't change either if this law passed," he said.

Kyle Roerink, the executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, disagreed.

Roerink said the bills are designed to facilitate the pipeline project.

"We do believe these bills to be mechanisms to upend and undermine water law as we know it," he said. "We think what the opponents are doing is manufacturing a crisis in order to use mitigation as a means to grant permits."

He said under current law, those permits cannot be granted if there is a conflict.

Crowell said SNWA has not talked to his department about the bills and the proposals are based on the expertise in his department, who are looking for the best solution for a problem.

He also said his department has no position on the proposed pipeline and the SNWA has no position the bills that are proposed.

Roerink believes conservationists, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the SNWA can come to some kind of reasonable agreement on some these complicated issues, but currently, he said, "We are in the midst of a water war."

Kyle Roerink, executive director, Great Basin Water Network;  Bradley Crowell, director, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.