Engineer rejects tribe’s attempt to block Douglas County water applications |

Engineer rejects tribe’s attempt to block Douglas County water applications

The state water engineer has rejected the move by the Pyramid Paiute Tribe to block 19 separate applications to move or change water rights in Douglas County.

Most of the changes were designed to enable municipal and commercial development in the county. In addition to the county and area general improvement districts, the applicants included ranchers, commercial developers and the owners of a commercial nursery.

Tribal lawyers argued the Carson Valley’s groundwater is “severely over-appropriated” and that more ground water use there means less flow in the Carson River to Lake Lahontan. That means more diversions from the Truckee River to the Newlands Project to replace that lost water, which means less water to Pyramid Lake.

Tribal officials also argued that many of the water rights in question should be canceled because the water wasn’t being used. They said approving the 19 applications would put that water to use, effectively increasing total ground water use in the valley. Instead, they said, any unused water from Carson Valley should be used to increase tribal water flowing to the Newlands Project which, in turn, increases the flow to Pyramid.

State Engineer Tracy Taylor ruled the fact some water owners weren’t using the amount of water they own, allowing it to flow to the Newlands Project, doesn’t give the tribe and others who have been getting that excess water the legal right to it in the future. He said the tribe failed to make a legal connection between its Truckee River water rights and ground water rights in the Carson Valley.

In addition, he agreed with Douglas County that those applications aren’t asking for new water appropriations.

“Rather the applications seek only to change the point of diversion, place of use and manner of use of existing, permitted water rights within the Carson Valley Hydrographic Basin,” he wrote in his 41-page decision.

He also rejected the argument the Carson Valley’s water is over-appropriated, agreeing with Douglas County that the net ground water pumping average from 1990-2005 was 15,000 to 18,000 acre-feet a year while the estimated total water available ranges as high as 50,000 acre feet.

Tribal officials argued actual appropriated water rights are more than 94,000 acre-feet. County lawyers countered that fully half that total is supplemental to surface water, and only used during drought years.

The tribe, however, pointed out western Nevada is in a drought and that water is being pumped. They argued a large percentage of those water rights should be canceled.

One of the applications the tribe sought to block was at the China Spring youth camp. Tribal representatives argued the camp hasn’t used its water rights for several years and, under Nevada law, should forfeit them.

Douglas County officials said that’s because the camp’s old well had deteriorated and was shut down. While the new well was being drilled, severe water shortages forced camp officials to truck in water. Now, they argued, China Spring has its new well and is entitled to begin using its water supply again.

Taylor agreed.

He said there is no evidence pumping ground water is decreasing flow in the Carson River, that, in fact, Carson River flows for the past 30 years are actually 4 percent higher than the preceding 30-year study period.

“As pumpage does not exceed the range of natural recharge, there is no reason to restrict ground water use at this time.”

He did deny one of the 19 applications because it would have moved the point of use into the Johnson Lane area from outside, which the engineer’s office had restricted in a previous order. The other 18 applications, however, he ordered approved.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.