Nevada attorney general joins coalition to defend water rights

CARSON CITY — Nevada Attorney General Adam Paul Laxalt is taking the lead for a 10-state coalition of attorneys general in filing a court brief defending state governments’ ability to regulate groundwater usage.

The friend of the court brief was filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to review a 9th Circuit decision that Laxalt said threatens disruption to settled expectations to states nationwide.

The 9th Circuit ruling concluded, in conflict with multiple state-court decisions, that the federal government has broadly reserved rights to groundwater that preempt long-established state-law regulations, Laxalt said in a statement.

“By filing this brief, my office encourages the Supreme Court to take the necessary steps to clarify the states’ groundwater rights and to ensure Nevada’s best interests are being protected from unnecessary and unwarranted federal interference,” Laxalt said.

The brief, in support of writs filed by two Southern California water agencies, asks the Supreme Court to clarify whether the federal reserved water right doctrine extends to groundwater and, if so, under what circumstances, so as to guide all states on managing groundwater resources.

The ruling at issue involves a dispute arising in the Coachella Valley in Southern California.

A Native American tribe sued in federal court claiming that, as part of its federal reservation of land, it has a priority right to use groundwater in the valley. Relying on Supreme Court cases involving implied reservations of surface water rights, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a priority right to use groundwater under federal reserved land is included as an implied right with the reservation, and that that right necessarily pre-empts state water law.

Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Wyoming joined Nevada in filing the brief.

Contact Sean Whaley at or 775-461-3820. Follow @seanw801 on Twitter.

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