Sandoval, other governors tell feds to leave water business alone

CARSON CITY — Western governors, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture expressing concerns about a proposed directive that could affect states’ authority over their water resources.

The letter, sent to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack last week and signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sandoval, says: “Our initial review of the proposed directive leads us to believe that this measure could have significant implications for our states and our groundwater resources.”

The letter says that Western states are “the exclusive authority for allocating, protecting and developing groundwater resources within their boundaries, an authority recognized by Congress and reasserted by the Supreme Court.”

In a separate letter signed by 40 members of Congress, including Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., the lawmakers claim that the Proposed Directive on Groundwater Resource Management would initiate U.S. Forest Service authority over state-managed groundwater resources.

The directive would claim that surface water and groundwater are “hydraulically interconnected” and allow the agency to object to state-regulated projects on “adjacent” land that might harm groundwater, the lawmakers said in their June letter to Vilsack.

The letter sent by the Western governors includes a number of questions seeking clarification about the intent of the directive.

“For this Proposed Directive — as well as the Proposed Directives for National Best Management Practices for Water Quality Protection on National Forest System Lands — USFS should seek authentic partnership with the states to achieve appropriate policies that reflect both the legal division of power and the on-the-ground realities of the region,” the governors’ letter said.

Sandoval said Tuesday he is concerned about the directive and its potential effects on Nevada.

“Obviously Nevada is very aggressive in terms of asserting control over its water and in no way do we want that control to be diluted,” he said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Find him on Twitter: @seanw801.