weather icon Clear

Deadline fast approaching for controversial water bill

Updated May 23, 2019 - 7:46 pm

CARSON CITY — A little more than a month ago, a controversial water bill seemed like it had done the impossible by getting environmental and rural groups to drop their fervent opposition.

But after that brief moment of Kumbaya, some of those same groups are hoping the bill sinks in the final days of the Nevada Legislature, warning that it could lead to a potential urban water grab and raising familiar concerns over a long-standing plan to pipe water from eastern Nevada to the Las Vegas Valley.

The bill, Assembly Bill 30, would clarify how the state engineer is able to use monitoring, management and mitigation plans, or so-called 3m plans, changes that the state hopes would help stave off the lawsuits that often follow decisions on water permits.

“It’s a desperately needed measure to help us have more clarity in what tools we use to manage water in Nevada, and we’ll be more defensible in the courts going forward,” Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Brad Crowell said in an interview Wednesday.

But opponents say the changes would upend Nevada’s long-standing water law by allowing the state to consider issuing permits when there might be a conflict between senior and junior water rights holders, which some said would make for an easier path for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s long-standing proposal to build a 300-mile pipeline to pump groundwater from eastern Nevada to Las Vegas that would come with an estimated price tag of $15 billion.

“The policy of 3m means more water going to big and powerful entities that currently cannot get water under Nevada water law,” Abigail Johnson, a board member for Great Basin Water Network, said Thursday at a demonstration in front of the Legislature to show opposition to the bill.

That demonstration included a giant bucket in front of the Legislature that was driven to Carson City from Baker that has been a symbol of opposition to the pipeline project.

That state engineer blocked the water authority’s plan for the pipeline in September, a decision that the authority quickly filed a lawsuit over. Great Basin Water Network and 58 other organizations also sued over the decision, but instead they took aim at the authority’s 3m plan, and similar suits were filed by three tribal organizations, two Utah counties and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which operates a cattle ranch in one of the four valleys targeted by the water authority.

That rhetoric about the pipeline, Crowell said, has become the biggest impediment for the bill.

“It’s our view that AB30 does not have an impact on the pipeline,” Crowell said. “If certain stakeholders want to continue to make it all about the pipeline, then it doesn’t leave any room for constructive policy discussion. “

Laurie Thom, chairman of the Yerington Paiute Tribe, said during Thursday’s demonstration that she wants the tribes to be more involved in the conversations when it comes to 3m plans.

“We want to make sure that AB30 includes the tribes, our voice and the language that we need to protect the resources that we believe are so powerful to us,” Thom said.

State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said AB30 is “not truly a pipeline bill,” but added that he is concerned about the long-term impacts that 3m plans could have across the state.

But, Goicoechea said he believes that the bills are “getting diluted down to where we can probably live with them.”

Compromise, until there wasn’t

At the bill’s first hearing, conservationists and rural groups panned the proposal as a way to greenlight the eastern Nevada pipeline project.

But after weeks of meetings with those stakeholders, a compromise seemed to be in place as several of those groups came back to the table to say they had changed their stance from opposition to neutral.

But that compromise didn’t last long.

After passing through the Assembly, the bill went through numerous rewrites and amendments in the Senate, and tensions began to flare as more groups attempted to tweak the bill’s language, including the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which submitted an amendment that was not considered by the state because the natural resources department believed it would have upended the compromise that had been struck previously.

That tension culminated in a surprise work session on the bill last week in which Senate Natural Resources Chairwoman Sen. Melanie Scheible, D-Las Vegas, brought out an easel in front of the other committee members to physically hash things out.

But when the Senate committee voted on the bill on Friday, it did so without any of the changes to the bill that came over from the Assembly.

Future uncertain

And for now the bill’s fate remains unclear.

AB30 is currently in limbo, but has until midnight Friday to be approved by the Senate to stay alive, unless it’s granted a waiver or brought back in the final days of the session via an amendment or as an emergency measure.

Behind the scenes, discussions between all sides have started to center on forming a working group to iron out the details on how best to implement 3m plans and then come back in the 2021 Legislature with a new bill.

Crowell said he is continuing to work with interested parties to see if there is a path forward on the bill this session, and that he’s not opposed to having those discussions over the interim — so long as he can be assured that constructive conversations will be had.

“Those discussions over the interim are going to be limited to those who can engage constructively and proactively, not those who are going to use it to inflame the pipeline politics,” Crowell said.

“If it’s merely just kicking the can down the road where we’ll be in the same place we are now next session, it’s not worthwhile,” Crowell said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Tomi Lahren Speaks at UNLV - VIDEO
Fox News contributor and UNLV alumna Tomi Lahren returned to campus Wednesday night for a speech, titled “Stay Triggered,” that drew an auditorium of supporters as well as a group of protesters outside. (James Schaeffer/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders released from Las Vegas hospital - VIDEO
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., issues a statement after he was released from Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, after suffering a heart attack earlier in the week. (Bernie Sanders via Twitter)
Democratic presidential candidates speak on impeachment - VIDEO
Democratic presidential candidates attending the March for Our Lives/Giffords Gun Safety Forum in Las Vegas comment on possible impeachment proceedings. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden Las Vegas Rally Highlights - Video
2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden, came to Las Vegas to talk guns, climate change and the Ukranian-Trump scandal. Biden was interrupted by a protestor who sat amongst supporters at the rally and continued with his speech. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden comments on Trump and his campaign efforts in Nevada - Video
After an impeachment inquiry was opened on Donald Trump, Joe Biden talks with Review-Journal politics reporter Rory Appleton about Trump and his campaign in Nevada. (Angus Kelly & James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders Unveils Affordable Housing Plan - Video
Bernie Sanders sits down with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to talk about his new affordable housing plan he unveiled at Plumbers & Pipefitters.
Jim Marchant talks gun control and Dreamers - Video
Republican Candidate for District 4 Jim Marchant talks about gun control and immigration policies. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hurricanes, Gender, and Science in the Press
Imagine if the mainstream media’s current hurricane-sized obsession with scientific accuracy applied to gender.
Cory Booker on college tuition and minimum wage
Cory Booker talks on the RJ Politics podcast about college debt, informing workers about their rights and livable wages.
Nevada Politics Today: Teacher raises - VIDEO
Jason Goudie, the chief financial officer for the Clark County School District, talks about teacher pay and raises. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Reaction strong as Trump compares his impeachment to ‘lynching’

President Donald Trump injected racial overtones into the House impeachment inquiry Tuesday by comparing the Democratic-led investigation into his handling of U.S. policy toward Ukraine to a “lynching.” The highest-ranking African American in Congress warned Trump about making the comparison.

US troops leaving Syria for Iraq cannot stay, says military

U.S. troops leaving Syria and heading to neighboring Iraq do not have permission to stay in the country, Iraq’s military said Tuesday as American forces continued to pull out of northern Syria after Turkey’s invasion of the border region.

Lawmakers call diplomat’s account on Ukraine ‘disturbing’

Former U.S. Ambassador William Taylor detailed to lawmakers Tuesday the way President Donald Trump wanted to put the new Ukraine president “in a public box.”

Trump defends his decisions over Syria, G7

President Donald Trump on Monday addressed controversies such as Republicans breaking ranks with him over Syria and canceling a plan to hold the G7 meeting at his Miami golf course.

BLM whistleblower regains job in Nevada after firing

Craig Hoover, a rangeland specialist with the federal agency, said he was terminated after reporting illegal livestock grazing in eastern Nevada.

Israeli PM Netanyahu gives up on forming new coalition

Benjamin Netanyahu said he was returning the “mandate” to President Reuven Rivlin, who will now ask Gantz to try to form a coalition.