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County appeals state’s water ruling

Nye County has appealed the decision of State Engineer Jason King to deny several petitioners water right applications after the board of commissioners had agreed to do it last month.

The water rights are located on the Nevada National Security Site and are currently used by the federal government.

Attorney George Benesch, who represents the County, said the appeal is under submission in Fifth District Judicial Court. Benesch couldn’t provide the exact time frame, but said he expects to see an outcome within six months to a year.

"€œThe process takes as long as it takes," he said.

King did not respond to a request for an interview by press time.

County Planning Director Darrell Lacy said applications that sought to appropriate the public waters in Basins 226 and 227 were denied based on lack of access that had been withdrawn by the Department of Energy. Several other applications that had been denied earlier were also being appealed, he said.

"The places that we applied for these water (rights) in general, are the places where there’s no farming going on, these are primarily Nevada Test Site or Nevada National Security Site now," Lacy said. "They are only using what federal agencies are using. In those situations, there was potentially more water available than what’s being used, so as a county, we applied for that water, we think that we have a right to use it and move it around if we need to."

According to court documents, the action of the state engineer in denying applications on the grounds of lack of access is contrary to state policy where the Nevada Legislature has requested the federal government work with the state, Nye and Clark counties to develop water resources to replace the contaminated water on the Nevada National Security Site.

A hundred atmospheric nuclear tests and 828 underground nuclear tests were conducted at the Nevada National Security Site, which resulted in detonation of 1,021 nuclear devices from 1951 until 1992, according to the information provided in the Assembly Joint Resolution.

The document also states that approximately one-third of the underground nuclear tests at the Nevada National Security Site were conducted directly in aquifers. A study conducted on behalf of Nye County concluded that nuclear testing at the Nevada National Security Site has polluted approximately 1.6 trillion gallons of water in the state.

However, Lacy said the county only applied for water in those areas where bombs didn'€™t go off and where the water isn’t contaminated.

"€œOn the test site, they have multiple basins and some of them are connected, (and) some are not,"€ Lacy said. "€œSo we didn't apply for any of the water in the areas where we know there’s contamination."€

If the county gets water rights, Lacy said it will be able to assess the level of contamination and determine whether the water is suitable for use by doing tests. If the water is contaminated, he said it will be replaced with clean water from somewhere else.

"But you have got to go through this legal process to get to that point and that’s what we are trying to do,"€ he said.

Other officials however expressed doubts about the positive outcome of the appeal.

"What makes us so sure that we are going to go back up there and he is going to say they are OK, after he just rejected them?"€ Commissioner Frank Carbone said. "€œI think it’s a little waste of money."

While Pahrump is located within water Basin 162, Lacy said there were 44 basins in Nye County and each one of them has to be adjudicated separately to determine how much water is available.

"€œWhen there’s plenty of water and people are just filing in new applications, everything'€™s easy. It's when you start getting like Pahrump where you have more applications and water rights given than (what you have),"€ he said.

A denial of the application could have a negative impact on the county’s population growth as the current basin is limited to 80,000 people, Lacy said.

"€œWater is still there, it’s not going anywhere,"€ he said. "€œ(There) are a lot of opportunities for water here, like I said there is a lot more people that want the water than there'€™s water available."

 

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