Court rules on Pyramid Lake water rights
December 15, 2004
Fallon and the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District may have lost a battle over moving some water rights to Pyramid Lake, but they won a Ninth Circuit Court ruling this week that will help them in future water-rights battles.
The Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe applied in 2001 to move some of its water rights to the lake. The state engineer ruled in its favor in December 2002.
Fallon and TCID lawyers asked for an automatic stay under Nevada law to block the water transfer.
But the tribe and the U.S. government objected, arguing the district court should use the federal rules of civil procedure instead of Nevada law.
The federal rule requires a hearing and extensive proof before a stay is issued, while the Nevada law grants the stay automatically.
The city and TCID lost the argument over the rights when a federal judge ruled the transfers legal under the Orr Ditch Decree.
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But the Ninth Circuit agreed to take up the question of whether federal rules supersede Nevada law because the judges agreed the issue was likely to come up again.
“All the litigants in this case are repeat players who have sought, in the past, and will likely seek in the future, to change water allocations under the Orr Ditch Decree,” the opinion by Judge William Fletcher states.
He wrote that the appellate court has previously upheld Nevada laws governing water disputes, in line with the 1902 Reclamation Act which gives state water laws control over the appropriation and distribution of water.
The opinion says that Nevada law specific to water rights should govern in this case as well.
The opinion also says the automatic stay is an important tool to protect the water while legal issues are decided.
“Absent such a procedure . . . it would frequently be impossible to remedy an error by the state engineer because, by the time the appeal was decided, the water at issue would already have been used,” the opinion states.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.