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Nevada Supreme Court holds hearing on Pahrump water order appeal

A decision on water law and the extent of the Nevada State Engineer’s authority over domestic wells is one step closer to reality, with the Nevada Supreme Court recently holding a hearing to take oral arguments from both parties in the appeal lawsuit filed by the engineer’s office over water Order #1293(A).

The water order was issued in Dec. 2017 as a method of curbing the drilling of new domestic wells in Pahrump’s Basin #162. The order created a new requirement for property owners to purchase two-acre feet of water rights and relinquish them back to the state prior to drilling a new domestic well, unless water rights had already been relinquished or dedicated to the property for that purpose.

This prompted immediate resistance from local property owners, real estate agents and well-drilling companies. Together, those opposing the order formed Pahrump Fair Water LLC and filed a lawsuit with a Nevada district court to halt the order. That court decided late last year to overturn the water order, leading to the state engineer’s appeal of that decision.

The matter has been with the Nevada Supreme Court since early this year, with a stay on the lower court’s decision issued, keeping the order in effect until such time as the Supreme Court renders a decision. The case, #77722, has now been submitted for a final ruling.

Due to the significance of the subject at hand and the wide-ranging impact a decision on the case could have, the decision has been placed in the hands of the “en banc” court rather than a smaller panel. In typical cases, a panel of only three Nevada Supreme Court justices is used to make rulings but for the appeal on Order #1293(A) the entire court of all seven justices is being utilized.

Attorney David Rigdon of Taggart and Taggart, LTD, the law firm representing Pahrump Fair Water, explained that the hearing held on Nov. 5 focused primarily on two central arguments, whether the state engineer needed to provide notice and hold a hearing before issuing the order, and whether or not the state engineer had the authority to regulate domestic wells in this manner in the first place.

“Both sides had what we call in the business a ‘hot bench’ with judges regularly interrupting the presentation to ask questions,” Rigdon detailed when asked to provide a brief overview of what occurred at the hearing on Nov. 5. “Most of the questions about the notice were directed at the state engineer’s attorney, while most of the questions about legal authority were directed at us.”

The Nevada Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the state engineer’s office, declined to provide an overview of the Nov. 5 hearing.

However, Rigdon said he felt both sides had made good presentations but there was no way of telling which direction the justices would ultimately turn. He, Pahrump Fair Water and the state engineer’s office, as well as the many local property owners and other stakeholders involved, will simply have to wait to see how the Nevada Supreme Court rules.

For those who would like to listen to the oral arguments made during the Nevada Supreme Court hearing visit bit.ly/2QAokKH

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com

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