The Moapa Valley Water District (“MVWD”) Board of Directors approved an MOU with the Moapa Band of Paiutes on June 9, 2016 to protect potential future water supplies. At issue is the possible expansion of the tribe’s reservation into an area encompassing potential well sites identified by the district.
The need for the MOU stems from a 2006 Memorandum of Agreement among MVWD, the tribe, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which includes a section to protect instream flows to protect the Moapa dace. Under those terms, a decline in springflows at Warm Springs would require a redistribution of groundwater pumping in the Coyote Spring Valley groundwater basin. To be prepared in the event of redistribution, MVWD identified potential well sites where pumping could be redistributed. The land is currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management, but bills have been introduced in the last two sessions of congress to convey that land to the tribe. The last action for the most recent bill, S. 1986, was a hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.
Overall, the new MOU addresses three areas that Director Lindsey Dalley noted are critical:
- 1) It protects the district’s access to well sights;
- 2) Waives the tribe’s sovereign immunity so that disagreements can be worked out by talking as a community, rather than going through a difficult process; and
- 3) It protects each other’s water rights in the event of an adjudication.
Specifically, under the new MOU, the tribe renews its commitment under the 2006 MOA to support redistribution of groundwater pumping and grants MVWD easements and rights-of-way to drill wells, construct other related infrastructure, and access, operate, maintain, repair, or replace the sites. MVWD will formally withdraw its objection to S. 1986 or any similar proposed legislation. Also, before engaging in drilling or construction activity, the district will work cooperatively with the tribe to minimize disturbance to culturally or environmentally-sensitive areas or endangered species and will conduct appropriate cultural, environmental, and archeological surveys. In addition, neither party will seek to curtail or diminish the water rights of the other party (though they still maintain rights to protest water right changes), and they both agree to try to resolve any water-related disputes informally and cooperatively.
MVWD, which is located approximately 50 miles north and east of Las Vegas, serves a 79-square mile area between Warm Springs and Overton, including the tribe’s reservation. During the board discussion, an MVWD staff member pointed out that they have a long history of providing water to the tribe, so the tribe has an interest in protecting the district’s water rights.
Written by Marta L. Weismann