Churchill-Lyon water rights suit reinstated
June 1, 2012
The Nevada Supreme Court has overturned a district court dismissal of the suit over the state engineer’s decision allocating groundwater rights in the Dayton Valley water basin.
Most of the applications asked to change the location of groundwater allocations, but two were for new appropriations.
Churchill County and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe protested the water applications, arguing that the basin is severely over-appropriated.
The district court didn’t get to the merits of the case but dismissed the suit, saying it should have been filed in Lyon County, not Churchill, because that’s where the water appropriations lie.
The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Kris Pickering and backed by all six other justices, reinstated the case.
“We conclude that the district court read the statute too restrictively,” the opinion states. “We therefore vacate the jurisdictional dismissal and remand for further proceedings.”
The county and the tribe argued because the Dayton Valley basin is connected to the Carson River, the water appropriations would decrease flows to Lahontan Reservoir, reducing Churchill County’s water. The tribe argued that that would, in turn, allow senior water rights holders in the Newlands Project to make up the loss by taking more water from the Truckee River, reducing flows to Pyramid Lake.
The opinion says nothing in statute “vests exclusive jurisdiction in the court of the county where all or part of the applicant’s water rights lie.”
“Instead the statute’s wording plainly contemplates more than one permissible forum, depending on the location, nature and origin of the interests assertedly affected,” it concludes.
The ruling sends the case back to the Third Judicial District Court in Churchill County, stating that the opinion doesn’t decide any of the merits of the claims by Churchill County or the tribe.
“We hold simply that the district court erred in dismissing those appeals for want of subject matter jurisdiction on the basis that the location of the applicants’ water rights controls,” the opinion concludes.