Senior District Court Judge Robert Estes ruled the state of Nevada must reconsider approval of plans to transport water from rural Nevada to Las Vegas.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority proposed a 10-year project estimated to cost $6.5 billion to move groundwater from Lincoln and White Pine counties to help alleviate a growing population in southern Nevada.
State Engineer Jason King granted approval to pump 61,127 acre feet of water from Spring Valley, 5,235 acre feet from Cave Valley, 11,584 acre feet from Dry Lake Valley and 6,0042 acre feet from Delamar Valley.
Earlier this year, oral arguments were held in Ely in June but the ruling from Judge Estes represents a major step forward, attorney Simeon Herskovits said.
“It’s essentially a complete victory for us and a complete defeat and reversal for Sun Law and the state engineer,” Herskovits said.
Judge Estes ruled parts of King’s decision were “unscientific, arbitrary and capricious.”
The ruling states King, the state engineer, must recalculate how much the authority pump from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys to avoid draining the basins and causing conflicts with other water rights holders there and elsewhere.
Estes’ ruling also criticized the proposed plan to monitor and take action if damage to the environment occurs and stated there must be scientific triggers.
“There is no objective standard to determine when mitigation efforts will be eliminated and implemented,” Judge Estes wrote in his ruling.
This is the second time a state engineer’s decision was overturned by district court. In 2009 the district court struck down the state engineer’s decision and the Nevada Supreme Court upheld the decision and denied an appeal.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority is likely to appeal the decision. While the ruling orders King to reevaluate, the SNWA released the following statement and expressed optimism going forward:
“SNWA is pleased that the court did not disturb the bulk of the State Engineer’s findings, including the determination that the applied for water is needed by the people of Southern Nevada who rely almost exclusively on the drought-stricken Colorado River for their water supply. Furthermore, the court also affirmed that the quantity of water determined by the State Engineer is available for appropriation in Spring Valley. The court has asked the State Engineer to gather additional data before rights are granted and water is developed, and SNWA is confident that this can be done.”
Herskovits said the decision was a major positive for White Pine County and opponents of the pipeline.
“This is essentially a death note for this project,” Herskovits said. “I think the writing is clearly on the wall that this project cannot stand under principled scrutiny under the law.”