Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Walker Lake Water Battle Dates Back to the Early 1900’s, Nevada Court to address "public trust" doctrine

A Nevada case called the “Rickey Decree” became a battle for water rights from the Walker River in 1902. The rancher, Henry Miller known as the “Cattle King of the West” brought the suit against Thomas B. Rickey, a Nevada farmer, through Rickey’s Miller & Lux land company. This battle started the fight for water spanning 116 years, water that comes from the mountains near Yosemite National Park and ending at Walker Lake, an ancient body of water located in Mineral County, Nev. In 1919, the water from the “Rickey Decree” would try to split the precious commodity between 151 users. In 1924, a new case would spring forth from the “Rickey Decree” when the federal government moved to establish water on the Walker River Indian Reservation, a small tribal community along the banks of the Walker River, also located in Mineral County. So began a new fight for water. This time, 254 names would be listed within the half-inch Walker River Decree – each wanting to bring water onto their lands. Over time, the ecology of Walker River and Walker Lake would take a dangerous hit with less and less water flowing through the riverway or into the lake. On May 22 of this year, Mineral County District Attorney Sean Rowe would inform the Independent-News that a decision had finally been made in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after years of litigation. Stating the “public trust doctrine”, the question was brought forth whether the state could reallocate the water rights needed to restore the ecology of Walker Lake and if by doing so, harm those above stream that have existing water rights such as farmers and ranchers. Public trust doctrine states that “government has a responsibility to preserve and protect natural resources for the public.” The question posed was closely noted to that of, “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” Should the ancient Walker Lake, remains of the prehistoric Lake Lahontan, be allowed to receive water or should a decree signed in 1924 hold precedence? That question was up to the court of appeals to decipher. “[The] appeal presents an open and important question under Nevada law,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jay Bybee wrote in one of his opinion, issued last week. “We therefore respectfully request that the Supreme Court of Nevada accept and decide the question.” Two other issues that were part of the complex litigation for Walker River was that the lower court erred in overturning a decision made by California and Nevada water officials. Another stated that the Walker River Paiute Tribe was wrongly dismissed for new water rights. Both of these cases have been reassigned. Now it is up to Nevada Supreme Court to have the answer on water rights within the Walker Basin. The state has never openly addressed the “public trust doctrine” and in doing so – could affect other areas within the state in which these issues have harmed the environment...MORE

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