State engineer wants to tweak Nevada water laws

CARSON CITY — A bill to update technical aspects in state water law received only token opposition Tuesday in a Senate committee hearing.

State Engineer Jason King told members of the natural resources committee that the intent of Senate Bill 47 “is to address issues throughout the water law that we believe need clarification, correction or addition.”

One area that drew the most discussion involved time limits for the state engineer to issue a letter of forfeiture if water rights are not being put to beneficial use. Another pertains to when the state engineer can order the plugging of a domestic well.

Nevada water law is based on a doctrine of “use it or lose it.” Under existing law, if the water has not been put to beneficial use after four years, the state engineer must notify the user they have one year to do so or forfeit the rights. If after a year no proof of use has been filed or an extension granted, the state engineer has 30 days to declare the right forfeited.

King said the 30-day time limit is not always met, and legal arguments have arisen claiming that if the deadline is missed, forfeiture can’t be invoked.

SB47 would remove the time limit, though some critics argued there should be some kind of deadline so forfeiture cases are not open-ended.

“The deadline isn’t a fix. It’s the non-use that matters,” King told committee members.

“At some point we need to talk about culpability of a water right holder, too.”

Another provision in existing law authorizes the state engineer to require the plugging of a domestic well drilled after July 1, 1981, if water can be supplied through a municipal water system and the connection fee is under $200.

King said the hookup fee restriction “makes the statute basically ineffective” because connections typically cost much more.

The bill would remove those date and cost exemptions.

State Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said he understood getting rid of the $200 hookup restriction, but suggested an upper limit should be set on connection fees before requiring a well to be plugged.

No action was taken by the committee and amendments were being drafted.

Contact Sandra Chereb at or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

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