A state Supreme Court ruling issued today could seriously delay or halt altogether a multibillion-dollar plan to pipe groundwater to Las Vegas from across eastern Nevada.
In a stunning reversal of a district court ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the groundwater applications underpinning the pipeline project might have to be refiled for consideration by the state engineer, Nevada’s chief water regulator.
At issue are the dozens of applications the Las Vegas Water District filed in 1989 seeking permission to tap groundwater in rural Clark, Lincoln and White Pine counties.
At the time of the massive filing, Nevada law required the state engineer to act on applications within one year, but in 2003 the Legislature passed a law that waived the one-year rule for applications seeking water for municipal use.
In its advance opinion issued today, the Supreme Court said the 2003 exemption only applies to groundwater applications filed after July 1, 2002, one year prior to the law’s enactment. Since the water district’s applications came some 13 years before that, the state engineer was required to rule on them within one year, the high court ruled.
The justices have sent the matter back to the Seventh District Court, where it will be up to a judge to decide whether the Southern Nevada Water Authority should be required to file new applications for the groundwater it wants in rural Nevada.
The lower court also could decide to let the older applications stand but require the state engineer to hear new protests on those applications.
State law limits the protest period to 30 days after an application is filed, which means only those who lodged protests within that window 21 years ago were allowed to directly participate in state hearings on the applications.
If the water authority is required to repeat the hearing process on the rural groundwater the agency has already been granted, there is no telling how long that could take or whether the state engineer would decide to grant it any water the second time around.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at email@example.com or 702-383-0350.