Assembly Bill 209, sponsored by District 36 Assemblyman James Oscarson, was approved by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources.
The bill, which won the committee approval May 11, addresses the “use-it-or-lose-it” doctrine in overallocated basins, critical management areas and in times of drought. Oscarson told that committee that at present, the process encourages water rights owners to overuse available water resources to provide future water allocations.
“This is creating an environment of misuse in places where water is scarce,” Oscarson said.
The bill will allow the state engineer to remove the requirement for water rights owners to prove their water rights in times of drought or if they live in an overallocated basin.
Under existing law, water rights holders have to prove their beneficial water rights every five years. A holder of underground water rights forfeits the right if he or she fails to beneficially use the water for five successive years, according to the use-it-or-lose-it doctrine.
Oscarson said that among other things, the use-it-or-lose-it law provides “disincentive for water conservation.”
“We have to be good stewards of our resources and creating an environment that motivates everyone to conserve water, rather than waste it,” Oscarson said.
A closer look
Assembly Bill 209 allows the state engineer to extend the time necessary to work on a forfeiture for a period of not more than three years in a basin where the withdrawals of water consistently exceed the perennial yield or in a basin that has been designated a critical management area. It also allows a state engineer to consider whether a designated basin is located in a drought area.
Oscarson said that on his trips through rural Nevada, he often sees water being pumped onto fields.
“I see it green up, I see it get gray, I see it get hot, and I see the field die, and I understand what has transpired. They’ve pumped 24 hours a day, seven days a week to prove …water rights, and then just let the field go,” he said.
Nevada State Engineer Jason King testified as being neutral on Assembly Bill 209.
“As amended, the bill provides for consideration of additional factors under request for extension of time to prevent working of a forfeiture of a water right for non-use,” King said.
“These additional factors include whether the basin is officially designated as being in a drought, whether the water right holder is conserving water in a manner that has reduced their actual consumption and whether the groundwater basin has been designated as a critical management area or whether it is a basin that is consistently overpumped,” he said.
The bill also provides that the state engineer’s office may grant extensions of time to prevent the working of a forfeiture that exceeds the usual one-year limitation in groundwater basins that are consistently overpumped or designated as critical management areas.
King said that the fee will have to be paid commensurate with a number of years approved under that request for an extension of time.
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