Minden hires California firm to battle water fight
December 21, 2007
Minden officials hired “the largest water law practice in the United States” on Wednesday to defend the town’s vast water holdings from challenges by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
Board members meeting in special session voted 4-0 to hire Hatch & Parent law corporation of Santa Barbara, Calif.
“If you make a decision tonight, we could be ready to go on one-day notice,” senior counsel Michael A. Gheleta told the board. “It seems like your concern is legitimate. It’s best to get in early rather than find out the case has left the station without you.”
The board heard from five law firms Wednesday before selecting Hatch & Parent. In their proposal to the board, Gheleta said he probably would be lead counsel.
Gheleta cited his 14 years with the Department of Justice where he litigated water rights matters in federal and state courts throughout the West.
Gheleta is senior counsel with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck of Colorado which is merging with Hatch & Parent in January to form what the firm says will be the largest water practice group in the United States.
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Town board member Bob Hadfield, who recommended Hatch & Parent be hired, said Wednesday the town put in for a $250,000 purchase order to get things started in a legal battle which officials expect to be litigated for years.
Hadfield said town board members would meet with firm representatives to decide whether to have a local liaison and to set goals and priorities.
Just before Thanksgiving, the Paiute tribe appealed the state engineer’s finding in Federal Court in Reno and in District Court in Churchill County.
The appeal continues to bring the Douglas County water transfer requests to a halt.
Tribal lawyers argued Carson Valley’s groundwater is “severely over-appropriated” and that more groundwater use means less flow in the Carson River to Lake Lahontan.
That means more diversions from the Truckee River resulting in less water to Pyramid Lake, the tribe claimed.
In late October, State Engineer Tracy Taylor rejected the tribe’s move to block 19 separate applications to move or change existing water rights in Douglas County.
He ruled the fact some Carson River water owners weren’t using their full allotment, allowing the excess to flow to the Newlands Project, doesn’t give the tribe and others the legal right to the water in the future.
Taylor said the tribe failed to make a legal connection between its Truckee River water rights and groundwater rights in the Carson Valley.
With 10,000 acre-feet of water rights, Minden owns the largest holdings on the Carson River valued at $129 million.
Litigation could tie up water right transfers for 10-15 years, officials have said.
The town expects the issue to be litigated up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hadfield said Wednesday he expects the newly hired firm to file motions immediately to change the venue from Churchill County.
“We don’t believe this will be a short-term thing,” Hadfield said. “We don’t believe it is going away. The advantage of having more expertise overall strengthens our defense strategy.”
Other firms that offered proposals included Downey Brand of Reno and Sacramento, Lionel Sawyer & Collins of Nevada and Washington, D.C., Robertson & Benevento of Reno and Las Vegas, and Taggart & Taggart of Carson City.
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