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Turquoise Ridge

Layne drills two dewatering wells at the Turquoise Ridge Joint Venture in preparation for sinking a third shaft in this March 2018 photo.

ELKO – Elko City Council is retaining a law firm with hopes of intervening to protect Elko’s water supply in the Pershing County Water Conservation District’s petition against the Nevada Division of Resources over water rights.

The council voted unanimously at its Feb. 12 meeting to hire Taggart & Taggart Ltd. of Carson City at a cost not to exceed $15,000 to represent Elko and file for city intervenor status in upcoming litigation in Pershing County District Court.

Mayor Reece Keener asked the council and public to keep the discussion focused on whether to hire the law firm rather than “get out in the weeds” with talk of perennial water yields and related issues. There was no public comment.

He said 18,000 acre-feet of water rights on the Humboldt River belong to the city, so what’s most important is to get on record as an interested party.

When the city hires the law firm, Elko could “essentially become part of the lawsuit,” said Councilwoman Mandy Simon, and City Attorney David Stanton said that is correct.

“The city will now have the chance to present its arguments,” he said.

Utilities Director Ryan Limberg cautioned that hiring the law firm isn’t a guarantee the court will allow Elko to intervene, however.

Pershing County Water Conservation District filed a petition in August 2015 and amended it in 2016 requesting the court side with the conservation district regarding water rights in Humboldt River basins.

The amended petition asks the court to “require the State Engineer to use statutory available tools in order to: 1) bring all over-appropriated groundwater basins surrounding the Humboldt River back to their perennial annual yield: 2) eliminate the cone of depression caused by over-allocation of groundwater pumping causing interference with surface water flows in the Humboldt River; 3) regulate water used for mining and milling pursuant to Nevada statutory code.”

PCWCD filed for action because farmers and ranchers in Pershing County were affected by drought, and senior holders of water rights weren’t getting their water. Pershing County is near the end of the Humboldt that originates in Elko County, and not enough flow makes it downstream in low-water years.

If the court agrees with the PCWCD, this could have “significant adverse impacts on water rights throughout the Humboldt River Basin” and could curtail groundwater pumping that would affect the city’s “ability to utilize its water rights,” Limberg had written in the council agenda.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got a responsibility,” Councilman Robert Schmidtlein said, because Elko residents are relying on the city’s water rights.

Acting State Engineer Tim Wilson has asked the court to deny PCWCD’s amended petition or hold an evidentiary hearing at least 60 days from Feb. 4 to allow time to prepare for the hearing.

The water conservation’s district specific issues regarding mine dewatering led to both Barrick Gold Corp. and Newmont Mining Corp. filing to intervene in the litigation.

“Both Newmont and Barrick need to protect their own water,” Schmidtlein said.

The amended writ also claims that the state engineer has “repeatedly failed to take action to effectively manage the water resources within the Humboldt River Basin, after many attempts by PCWCD to assist in developing a suitable plan.”

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