Jim Valentine: Water in the desert

Jim Valentine on Real Estate

Jim Valentine on Real Estate

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Northern Nevada is desert country which, by its very definition, means water is scarce. In Northern Nevada we also live in the mountains which means our weather constantly changes, often within the hour. Desert doesn’t always mean dry, however. It can snow or rain anytime and sometimes in good quantity.

Flash floods are a desert feature as the ground isn’t always able to absorb a downpour resulting in fast flooding water racing down a parched waterway that looks like it hasn’t seen water in 100 years. Most real estate that was developed recently has engineered provisions that mitigate flooding potential, but then people move in. As silly as it may sound, many take to altering things to protect their property, but in doing so can be threatening their neighbors’ properties by redirecting the water flow.

This is not only not neighborly, it is illegal. You may not increase or impede the flow of water across your property in Nevada. That is Nevada water law, and Nevada, by its constitution, owns all the water in the state of Nevada. The winter of 2022-23 will be remembered for decades to come for the quantity of precipitation and the duration of time that the snow remained on the ground.

We are seeing, and will experience for a while, the runoff from the resulting snowpack. It is helping our agriculture sector tremendously as evidenced by how many ranchers relying on surface water are reseeding now that we are not in a drought. There are areas, however, where the water is not controllable when the river flow is strong so beware as you travel through the area over the next month or so. How weather and rain in the mountains instead of snow can also cause the valleys to be besieged with water.

Water is magic in the desert. What is barren and forsaken looking can be made to look lush and gorgeous with a little water added. You can irrigate your landscaping with your domestic well but remember that you are limited to two-acre feet a year for domestic use out of a domestic well, about 1,800 gallons per day average. You can’t take water from creeks or rivers unless you have a water right to do so even if your property is located right next to the waterway. Such rights are called riparian rights and we don’t have them in Nevada.

If you are looking to acquire, or sell water rights, one often overlooked factor is that water rights in Nevada are real property. That means you can do a 1031 exchange to defer taxes when selling or buying them. Yes, you can sell water rights and buy income property, or sell income property and buy water rights and defer the taxes due on your gain.

If you are thinking about building a pond on your property, be sure to consider the water source and confirm that you are able to do so. There are rules, regulations, policies and procedures that you must comply with. Don’t just dig a hole and fill it with water, you might have to undo your efforts. It can be done, just do it right.

Water is precious in Nevada and is quite regulated. If you’ve moved from another state, be sure to learn Nevada water law. It is “pure western water law” and is vastly different from other states, especially any located to the west of us. Don’t ask forgiveness instead of permission.

Remember Mark Twain’s famous words, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting!” Don’t find yourself in a water dispute in Nevada, it is too precious of a commodity. Know what you have and what you can do with it. Also, know what you don’t have. Water is essential for life, but it is also very important to the value of your property. Use it wisely and your property will thrive as will its value.

When it comes to choosing professionals to assist you with your Real Estate needs… Experience is Priceless! Jim Valentine, RE/MAX Realty Affiliates, 775-781-3704. dpwtigers@hotmail.com.


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