Nevada Supreme Court Dismisses Appeal of District Court Order on Southern Nevada’s Groundwater Development Project

On February 6th, the Nevada Supreme Court dismissed an appeal of a district court order remanding a State Engineer’s decision granting the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s groundwater permits for its Groundwater Development Project.  Under the district court order, the State Engineer must recalculate available water for appropriation, add Millard and Juab Counties in Utah in the mitigation plan “so far as water basins in Utah are affected by pumping” in Spring Valley, Nevada and define standards, thresholds or triggers to avoid unreasonable effects from pumping.

In a 6-1 unpublished opinion, which shall not be regarded as precedent or cited as legal authority, the Supreme Court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction for an appeal of a regulatory order remanded back to a regulatory agency for further determinations.  In her dissent, Justice Kristina Pickering argued that the court had jurisdiction because the district court’s decision was “substantively final as to the core issue presented: does substantial evidence support the State Engineer’s decision to grant Southern Nevada Water Authority’s applications” under Nevada law.  The district court found “no.”

The Court’s decision is only the latest in Southern Nevada’s regulatory saga for developing its groundwater project.  According to reports in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Court has yet to review on a writ from the State Engineer Office and Southern Nevada seeking judicial review of several technical issues raised by the district court order.   The remand to the State Engineer will be the “third trip” for Southern Nevada seeking regulatory approval of its project’s water rights.

Under the State Engineer’s order, Southern Nevada received 83,988 AF of new groundwater rights in addition to the project’s 8,000 AF of existing agricultural groundwater rights.  Over 70% of the new groundwater rights, as well as all of the existing agricultural groundwater rights, are located in Spring Valley.  Southern Nevada estimates project construction costs at $3.2 billion.

Written by Rodney T. Smith, Ph.D.