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Next step unknown after water bill dies

After State Bill 81 failed to gain traction at the 78th Nevada legislative session, efforts will now focus on what the state can do to ease issues related to water rights without new regulations to work with.

SB 81 would have expanded the power of the state’s water authority to govern and manage groundwater shortages in areas suffering from severe drought. The bill was first heard by the Senate Government Affairs Committee on Feb. 12, later heard by the Assembly Government Affairs on April 22, and was killed June 1.

State Water Engineer Jason King pushed the bill because of Pahrump and other rural areas suffering from extreme drought which the state argues is causing declining groundwater levels in the basin.

King said they will continue to use what’s available to keep waters rights in check in the county.

“The Division of Water Resources will work within the current water law,” King said in an emailed statement. “The Critical Management Area designation is still on the books as are other tools. The Division plans to continue to work with the water right holders and domestic well users in addressing the water issues.”

County Commissioner Frank Carbone said he wasn’t sure how much affect the decision will have on the county, also pointing out the Critical Management Plan as a key focus going forward.

“I think you can still do a management area with a plan to figure out how to balance the basin,” Carbone said. “It takes the state engineer to help do that as well. He has to stand up and perform his duties as the state engineer.

“Now that may mean some devastating thing to some of the well owners and maybe some devastating things to the well right holders. No matter how you look at it, it’s a problem for all of us, depending on what the state engineer wants to do.”

Carbone was against the bill as it stood, as he mentioned he had a few revisions he would have liked to see be made before giving his backing.

“I was opposed to SB 81,” he said. “I made suggestions for some changes that would have made it a lot more palatable for both the well owners and the water right holders and I didn’t get any traction.”

The bill can now be brought before the Legislature no earlier than 2017, which Carbone would be open to.

“We’re not closed to going back and looking at SB 81 and seeing what we can do about some modifications,” he said. “It’s not just Pahrump, this is the county and the state. It’s the whole state that would be affected by this particular bill. So we weren’t the only ones who were not happy about it.”

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