The Nevada Supreme Court last week dismissed the Pyramid Paiute tribe's attempt to keep water it has been using for 20 years without legal rights to the water.
Nevada Land and Resource Company originally obtained rights to water from the Dodge Flat Basin in 1980 for a mining and milling project. The project failed to materialize but the company kept its water rights valid and in good standing.
In 2000, NLRC applied to change the use from temporary to permanent and to use it for power generation.
The Paiute tribe opposed the application but the state engineer granted it, which resulted in a lawsuit by the tribe.
Tribal lawyers conceded that they had been using the water from Dodge Flat without a permit or implied right for 20 years. But they argued the tribe should be allowed to keep the water and that the company shouldn't be allowed to reclaim it for a new use.
The high court agreed with the state engineer.
The engineer concluded Dodge Flat can yield about 2,100 acre feet of water a year without depleting the source. Deducting the 672 acre feet already committed to permanent use, he concluded the company could claim 1,428 acre feet of water a year for its power project.
But the engineer's report also stated the tribe is already pumping 3,520 acre feet of water from Dodge Flat Basin - more than double what the basin can sustain. Tribal officials argued that, based on their current usage, there is no unappropriated groundwater in the basin for the company to claim. The tribe also argued pumping by NLRC would damage other parties' existing water rights.
But the court found the tribe lacks a permit to pump that water and ruled that, therefore, any effect on other existing water rights "is the result of the tribe's unauthorized pumping in excess of the basin's perennial yield."
"Because the tribe's unauthorized use does not have priority over NLRC's permits and the proposed change, we affirm the state engineer's ruling."
The opinion was signed by all seven members of the Nevada Supreme Court.