78°F
weather icon Clear

State orders feds to return water to private ministry

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 90 days to return water to Ministerio Roca Solida, a private church ministry located in the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, according to the state.

On Nov. 4, the Nevada Division of Water Resources ordered the federal agency to cease diversion of water through the Ministerio Roca Solida parcel after the investigation found several violations of the terms of the ministry’s water permits.

In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service diverted the creek away from the Ministerio Roca Solida where Victor and Annette Fuentes, the leaders of the ministry, had founded the Patch of Heaven church camp. The agency cited the need to preserve endangered species, including the Ash Meadows speckled dace that inhabit the refuge.

“Getting the water returned would be a major first step in making the ministry whole, after years of suffering litigation and egregious constitutional violations by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Joseph Becker, director of Nevada Policy Research Institute’s Center for Justice and Constitutional Litigation, who represents the Fuentes.

Becker argued that the diversion of the waterway and taking of the ministry’s vested water rights was done without the Clean Water Act permits, in violation of Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements, and with no regard for the ministry’s use of the water for baptisms.

The diversion also resulted in repeated flooding of the church’s property.

The federal government, however, has denied any liability for the flooding and argued that the ministry had no rights to the water that had traversed its property.

While the order from the Nevada Division of Water Resources verified the institute’s claim that the ministry’s vested water rights were violated, the ministry continues to suffer “significant damage and constitutional violations,” Becker said.

“The ministry still suffered significant harm in the interim from the federal government’s actions, including repeated flooding and five years of flood damage resulting from the illegal water diversion project,” Becker said.

He called the state’s order a boost to the “takings” case against the Fish and Wildlife that was brought by the Nevada Policy Research Institute for diverting water from the Ministerio Roca Solida. The case is currently pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Fish and Wildlife has multiple water rights within the refuge that are on file with the State Engineer. The entity said that it had acquired these permits “to re-establish historic natural drainage patterns and wetlands within the refuge.”

“Although the USFWS said that its intention in acquiring those permits was to re-establish historic natural drainage courses within the refuge, the evidence presented by the Division of Water Resources demonstrates that the source of the Carson Slough historically traversed through the Solida parcel,” Nevada Division of Water Resources said in the documents.

According to the order from the state, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must return the water to its “historic path” traversing the church property, within 90 days, or face administrative fines up to $10,000 per day until corrective action is taken.

Failure to take corrective action will result in the matter being referred for additional action available to the state engineer.

Possible penalties for noncompliance can include payment of an administrative fine not exceeding $10,000 per day for each violation, replacement of not more than 200 percent of the water used, and payment of the costs of the proceeding, including investigative costs and attorney’s fees.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
NO STIGMA NEVADA: Carson City therapist: How to deal with stress and despair

As the COVID-19 pandemic death toll reaches nearly 100,000 in the U.S. and continues to rise, as do the numbers of unemployed, living with fear, anxiety, stress and even despair has become the new norm in Nevada and beyond.

Man charged in NHP Sgt. killing, faces additional charges

The man arrested in the killing of a Nevada Highway Patrol officer is facing additional charges, according to the Nye County District Attorney’s Office.

Local veterans hold two-man Memorial Day observance

An interesting coincidence occurred just days before Memorial Day, as two local veterans made separate plans to honor this nation’s fallen servicemen and women at the Chief Tecopa Veterans’ Memorial.

Ford joins coalition suing over Clean Car Standards

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford on Wednesday joined a multistate coalition of states, cities and counties to file a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s rule rolling back the national Clean Car Standards.

In Season: Strawberries are not just for northern climates

If you hail from a cooler, northern climate, you may have nostalgic memories of picking fresh wild strawberries in the spring and summer. The red juices flowing down your chin feel like a bit of heaven. Perhaps this is why I’ve received many questions lately about strawberries. Chief among them, can they be grown here?

Sisolak announces negative test for COVID-19

Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Wednesday his COVID-19 swab test came back negative. Sisolak was tested Tuesday evening and learned of his results Wednesday.

Eight Republicans, six Democrats battling for Nevada’s Congressional District 4 nomination

Editor’s Note: The Pahrump Valley Times had a misprinted page in its 2020 Special Election section on Friday, May 22. Four candidates from Nevada’s Congressional District 4 were affected by this incident (Also, see note to readers from the Times on A1 in this edition). This writing only includes the lost content and doesn’t reflect the original writing in full.