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Nevada’s state engineer retires, leaving court battles to successor

For a guy with a vague job title, State Engineer Jason King has been involved in some pretty important decisions for Nevada.

During his eight years as the state’s top water regulator, he banned new residential wells in Pahrump, blocked water development for the long-stalled Coyote Springs master-planned community and twice ruled on controversial plans to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas from eastern Nevada.

The 57-year-old King retired Friday after a 28-year career as a state employee, including the last eight as state engineer and administrator for the Nevada Division of Water Resources.

Bradley Crowell, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, has appointed King’s current deputy administrator, Tim Wilson, as acting state engineer.

Wilson has been with the Division of Water Resources since 1995. He will inherit several major ongoing water issues, including pending court challenges of King’s most recent actions regarding Pahrump, Coyote Springs and the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s in-state pipeline plans.

Though it might not be obvious from the title, the state engineer is responsible for the appropriation and regulation of all water within the state, except for the Colorado River. The position includes oversight of water well drilling, dam safety, water planning and floodplain management.

In 2012, King granted the water authority some of the groundwater it wants to tap in rural Clark, Lincoln and White Pine counties. Then last year, he rescinded those same water rights because of a 2013 court ruling he said he disagreed with but was legally bound to follow.

That decision is now under appeal, as are two other contentious orders he issued since 2017 barring new domestic groundwater wells in Pahrump and prohibiting more pumping by the developers of Coyote Springs. In both of those cases, King said he was acting to protect existing well owners and water levels in aquifers he considered to be severely over-appropriated.

King was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he earned a degree in civil engineering in 1986. He moved to Las Vegas in 1988 and went to work for the Division of Water Resources in 1991, after three years of structural design work in support of underground nuclear testing at what was then known as Nevada Test Site.

When interviewed for a profile in 2011, he told the Review-Journal that he didn’t know anything about Nevada water law when he took the job, but he came to “live and breathe” the subject as he rose through the division’s ranks to state engineer in 2010.

“I am grateful for Jason’s service to Nevada and his steadfast leadership to thoughtfully managing our precious water resources,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a written statement. “I am confident Tim Wilson will continue the direction and progress established under Jason’s leadership on the many critical water issues and policies that affect all Nevadans.”

In the same statement, Crowell praised King for his “extraordinary service to Nevada” and for “addressing complex issues head-on with perseverance and integrity.”

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

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