High court upholds state's rights to regulate water on Indian land

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court has denied a request by the South Fork Band of the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone Indians to delay a ruling letting Nevada regulate Humboldt River water rights on the South Fork Indian Reservation.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made no comment Friday in denying the tribe's request to put an Aug. 24 state Supreme Court ruling on hold while the tribe asks for a U.S. Supreme Court review.

The Nevada Supreme Court's ruling against the South Fork Band of the Te-Moak Tribe, headed by Marvin McDade, follows the arrests of three state water commissioners by tribal police when they crossed reservation land a year ago.

Starting in 1998, the tribe warned the water commissioners to stay off the reservation, and refused to pay assessment fees charged against every Humboldt River water right holder.

The tribe got its land in the late 1930s and early 1940s, after a 1935 judicial determination of all Humboldt water rights - what's known as the Humboldt Decree.

The state Supreme court said that from the 1940s on, the tribe paid water assessment fees and allowed the state engineer and the water commissioners access onto the reservation so that they could reach water diversion boxes on the Humboldt - until 1998.

The land acquisition subject to the already resolved water rights ''constituted an express waiver of sovereign immunity,'' justices wrote, adding that the tribe's actions until 1998 ratified the waiver.


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