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Nevada’s Adam Laxalt joins fight over contested water order for Pahrump

Updated March 8, 2018 - 11:34 am

In the latest action surrounding Nevada State Engineer Order #1293, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has joined the fight on the side of the state engineer’s office. Laxalt is representing the engineer’s office in the lawsuit filed by Pahrump Fair Water LLC, a group of local citizens seeking to put a stop to the order.

On Feb. 28, Laxalt filed opposition to the association’s motion for stay and Pahrump Fair Water’s reaction was rife with frustration. In a letter sent out via email, the association blasted Laxalt’s filing, accusing the attorney general of attempting to muzzle those protesting against the order.

Nevada State Engineer Jason King issued Order #1293 in December 2017 at the direct request of the Nye County Water District Governing Board, sparking immediate disquiet in the Pahrump community.

Order #1293 created restrictions on the drilling of new domestic wells in the Pahrump Valley, requiring any new domestic well to have two acre-feet of water rights relinquished prior to being drilled.

While some valley lots already have water rights associated with them, many do not, leaving those property owners without any option but to purchase costly water rights in order to develop their land.

The arguments

Pahrump Fair Water LLC has alleged that this action will cause damage to those property owners as well as to the business owners and real estate agents involved in the association and the overall economic well-being of the county and town as a whole. Laxalt, on the other hand, asserted that Pahrump Fair Water LLC has no legal standing to request a stay.

“It is factually impossible for petitioner to be irreparably harmed if a stay of Order #1293 is not issued as it does not own any land or otherwise have an interest that is affected by the order,” Laxalt’s opposition filing stated. “Petitioner does not have any legal interest in the basin.”

The argument of legal standing revolves around a technicality, with Laxalt noting that as a limited liability company that did not exist until after Order #1293 was issued, Pahrump Fair Water LLC is not affected by the order. The filing read, “…a limited liability company is an entity distinct from its managers and members.”

Laxalt’s opposition contains various other arguments as well, including his belief that a stay of Order #1293 would harm the public. In addition to declarations regarding potential negative impacts to water supply, Laxalt predicted a rash of drilling if a stay were granted.

“If a stay is issued but the state engineer succeeds on merit … any well drilled between issuance of the stay and a final determination in this action will result in an avoidable injury to those persons who may rely on the stay,” Laxalt stated. “If Order #1293 is upheld, then each of those wells would be required to be plugged …”

Fierce reaction

Following Laxalt’s filing, Pahrump Fair Water distributed its email criticizing the action.

“Not only is Attorney General Laxalt aggressively defending the state engineer’s unwillingness to hear the concerns of Pahrump citizens before he issued the order, he is now also seeking to silence those same citizens …” the release said. “The motion filed … characterizes the concerns expressed by the citizens as ‘impertinent,’ ‘immaterial’ and ‘irrelevant’ despite the fact that they directly relate to the issues raised in the appeal.”

Pahrump Fair Water Managing Member and Pahrump real estate agent Norma Jean Opatik was quoted as stating, “This is truly incredible … Attorney General Laxalt, one of our elected representatives who is supposed to defend our constitutional right to be heard, is suggesting that we are being ‘impertinent’ for daring to exercise our right to challenge the state engineer.”

A request for comment from Laxalt’s office was made but a response has not yet been received.

The Office of the Attorney General is required by law to represent the Nevada State Engineer’s Office in litigation, as dictated by Nevada Revised Statute 228.110(1)(a). Nevada Revised Statute 533.450 section 11 also states that the state engineer shall request the Attorney General to appear in any litigation that the engineer believes may adversely affect the right of the public in water.

The case has been filed with the Fifth Judicial District Court Department 2 under case number CV 38972.

Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at rhebrock@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

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