Hundreds of water rights holders in the Humboldt River Basin will be notified of a lawsuit filed by the Pershing County Water Conservation District against State Engineer Jason King. The irrigation district’s notifications will give all those concerned a chance to intervene in the case.

It was the latest development in the four-year-old case according to court minutes for the October 21 hearing in Lovelock before Eleventh Judicial District Court Judge Jim Shirley. 

In August 2015, after years of drought and little or no irrigation water, the PCWCD sued the state engineer, contending that King had over-allocated groundwater upstream in the Humboldt River Basin causing a shortage of surface water downstream in the Lower Humboldt River. 

The PCWCD asked King to bring water rights into balance with the basin’s “perennial yield” and to adhere to the “first in time, first in right” water rights concept that gives senior surface water rights priority over junior groundwater rights. The lawsuit sets up a fight between farmers, ranchers, mining companies, communities and others for the basin’s limited water supply.

At the latest hearing, Nevada Gold Mines and Marigold Mines attorneys argued in favor of intervention by the mining industry. Attorney Paul Taggart, who spoke for the Crawford family, said his client should be allowed to intervene in the case according to the court minutes.

“Mr. Taggart argued first. It is established that all of the parties have water rights. The remedies requested include curtailment. All the parties should have an opportunity to weigh in on the proceedings here. The Junior water right holders should have an opportunity to be heard.”

Greg Morrison, an attorney for Nevada Gold Mines, said potential groundwater pumping curtailment, as a result of the lawsuit, would impact mining in the Humboldt River Basin.

“Curtailment is one possible outcome. Deprivation of the mining industries’ water rights could end a great amount of their production abilities,” Morrison told the court according to the minutes. “Cancellation and curtailment would both be detrimental to the mining industry.”

James Bolotin, an attorney for the State Engineer, argued in favor of allowing junior water rights holders to be notified and participate in the case. As a result of the hearing, the State Engineer’s office will provide PCWCD with the names and addresses of all water rights holders in the HRB. 

The long list could include communities, mines, farms, ranches and others with water rights.

Within four weeks of receiving the list, the PCWCD will send a notice to all water rights holders after the notice is approved by all parties in the lawsuit including the State Engineer. The notice must also be published in all newspapers along the Humboldt River according to the court order.

Those water rights holders wishing to intervene in the case must notify the court by Jan. 15, 2020. Intervenors will then have until Feb. 15 to provide the court with witness and evidence lists as well as “what the party intends to prove with the witnesses and evidence.”

After the in-person hearings in January and February, an evidentiary hearing is scheduled for March 9 to 13 and the trial is scheduled for June 22 to 26. The court asked the parties to be sure their evidence is not redundant or already addressed by the state or other intervenors.

“The Court does not wish to delay this case any longer so that is part of why the intervention has been granted,” states the Oct. 21 court minutes. “The Court will sign off on an order if all the parties agree to the form of the notice to junior water rights holders.”

PCWCD Manager Ryan Collins said the order to notify hundreds of water rights holders in the Humboldt River Basin will be a huge job for his one-person office staff. But, he’s happy that an end could be in sight as the court makes progress with a trial and a possible decision in June.

“At least it’s moving forward,” he said. “The engineer’s office has three weeks to produce a list of water rights holders and we have four weeks to notify them. But, all the parties that are involved at this point have to agree on the letter that’s going to be sent. That way there’s no question.”