Las Vegas Review-Journal

Suit filed after water official blocks Coyote Springs construction

Nevada’s top water regulator is blocking construction of the master-planned community at Coyote Springs because he says there isn’t enough water to support the project.

Nevada State Engineer Jason King told Coyote Springs Investment he cannot justify approving any subdivision maps for the long-stalled development 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas “unless other water sources are identified for development.”

He warned that pumping the existing groundwater rights at Coyote Springs could dry out springs to the east that form the headwaters of the Muddy River and the sole habitat for the Moapa dace, a small fish protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The development company, owned by prominent Bay Area builders Thomas Seeno and Albert Seeno Jr., filed suit in district court in Las Vegas on June 8 seeking to overturn King’s decision.

The Seenos say they have spent more than $200 million so far on utilities, flood control structures, roads and a Jack Nicklaus-designed 18-hole golf course, which opened in 2008.

If the company is not allowed to use the water rights it already has, “effectively the Coyote Springs Development is dead,” the lawsuit states.

The Las Vegas Valley Water District expects to be drawn into the legal fight.

Since 2006, the district has overseen the operation of the water system at Coyote Springs under an agreement requiring the developer to provide all of the water and pay for all of the infrastructure.

District officials sent a series of letters to the development company last year questioning whether groundwater in Coyote Springs Valley could sustain the project.

The district eventually forwarded its concerns to the state engineer, triggering his review.

Then on June 6, water district general counsel Gregory Walch notified the developer that the utility was discontinuing any inspections or plan reviews until further notice because any expansion of the water facilities at Coyote Springs was “futile” in light of King’s findings.

Reached for comment Friday, water district general manager John Entsminger said he couldn’t discuss the issue because of the developer’s lawsuit and the prospect of more legal action.

“Given that the matter is subject to ongoing litigation, we would limit our comment to saying that we support the office of the Nevada state engineer to manage these underground water supplies in a sustainable manner,” Entsminger said.

More trouble lurks downstream

King said the problem stretches well beyond the Coyote Springs Valley.

In 2014, he rejected a host of pending applications for new groundwater rights there and in four adjacent watersheds based on the results of a two-year pumping test conducted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to see if it could safely withdraw water from the area without impacting the upper Muddy River or its endangered fish.

Instead, the test resulted in reduced spring flow into the Muddy and declines in the water table elsewhere in the five linked aquifers.

King now believes that “only a small portion” of the more than 50,000 acre-feet of water rights already on the books in the five aquifers can be fully developed without negatively impacting the Moapa dace or senior rights holders along the river.

He has scheduled a public workshop at 9 a.m. July 24 at the Moapa Valley Community Center in Overton to discuss what his findings could mean for groundwater users from Apex to the Moapa River Indian Reservation and beyond.

One acre-foot is enough water to support two average Las Vegas Valley homes for a little over a year.

The developers of Coyote Springs own 4,140 acre-feet of permitted groundwater rights. Almost half of that water has already been dedicated to the project’s water system managed by the Las Vegas Valley Water District.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.