The Nevada Supreme Court has unanimously upheld Carson City's 1885 priority to water rights in Ash Canyon.
When Carson ran into regulatory troubles eight years ago, the state temporarily canceled the city's permit to use the water. The city owns 60 percent of the water rights to the canyon, but because in many years the amount of water is very limited, that priority is important.
After that issue was resolved and the permit reinstated, the Andersen Family Associates, which owns the rest of the Ash Canyon water rights, served notice to the state engineer that the cancellation legally cost the city its 1885 priority.
That would effectively give first call on the waters in Ash Canyon to the Andersen family. In dry years, Carson would get whatever was left, greatly reducing the value of its water rights there. They cited state water statutes saying a cancellation and restoration of any water rights resets the priority date of those rights.
The state engineer disagreed saying the water rights in Ash Canyon were vested before the state's water statutes were enacted in 1913 and, therefore, can't be impaired or reduced legally by the statutes.
The Andersen family appealed but then-District Judge Mike Griffin agreed with the state engineer.
They appealed again to the Nevada Supreme Court which, Thursday, upheld Griffin saying the only way pre-1913 vested water rights can be lost is in accordance with the laws in effect before that date, "namely intentional abandonment."
The opinion by Justice Ron Parraguirre, signed by all seven members of the court, says there is no indication in this case Carson City intended to abandon those water rights and adds that the water rights were properly reinstated by the state engineer.
"Although Carson City lost the right to use the water at issue in the approved manner under the permit when the permit was canceled, the city did not lose the priority attached to its vested rights," he wrote.
"Here, a loss of priority, which would render Carson City's rights useless in some years, certain affects the rights' value."
Therefore, the opinion states, the priority of those rights remains as set in the 1885 decree.
City officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.