Water rights agreement reached for east fork of Owyhee River

dcnr-web.gifOWYHEE, Nev.–Long-standing water rights disputes in northeastern Nevada have ended with a new agreement among the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, water users on the east fork of the Owyhee River, the United States and the State of Nevada. Sen. Harry Reid introduced legislation to formalize the agreement last month.

“Numerous claims were filed on water on the east fork of the Owyhee River,” said Allen Biaggi, director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “There was not enough water in the river to service all of those claims. Disputes and the potential for litigation were the result. “The parties have worked very hard to arrive at a mutually agreeable solution,” Biaggi added. “They should be commended for resolving the disputes without resorting to drawn-out litigation.”

Agreement highlights include:

  • The Tribes will have rights to 101,476 acre feet of surface water each year.

  • The Tribes will also have rights to springs and creeks located on tribal lands and may use this water for any purpose authorized by its governing body—with the provision that water use be compliant with tribal water law which must be similar to state law.

  • The Tribes may pump up to 2,606 acre feet of ground water based on water currently or historically used on the reservation–but the amount cannot exceed the perennial yield within reservation boundaries.

  • Water amounts for upstream users are defined by maps of currently irrigated areas and specific duties for various uses and crops.

  • The agreement outlines a process for determining water availability in a given hydrologic year, storage in the Wildhorse Reservoir and a process of allocation in times of shortage.

  • The State of Nevada will provide the services of a water commissioner to oversee and enforce the agreement. In the event of a dispute, the agreement defines an informal dispute mechanism as the first resort and identifies the state court as the court of jurisdiction.

  • The State of Nevada will fund and maintain stream-flow gauges on the Owyhee River.

The water rights negotiations have been underway for five years beginning under then Governor Kenny Guinn and concluding under Governor Jim Gibbons. Pete Morros, former Nevada State engineer, and DCNR Director Allen Biaggi headed the negotiations.

The Duck Valley Indian Reservation was established by Congress in 1877 and expanded by Executive Orders in 1886 and 1910. The Owyhee River, a tributary of the Snake River, is about 200 miles long and has its source in northern Elko County.


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