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Elko City Hall

ELKO – Elko City Council will consider whether to retain a law firm to represent the city as an intervenor in litigation filed by the Pershing County Water Conservation District against the Nevada Division of Water Resources over Humboldt River rights.

The question of hiring the firm of Taggart &Taggart Ltd. of Carson City is on the agenda for the council’s 4 p.m. meeting on Feb. 12. The law firm specializes in litigation involving water rights and already represents at least one other party seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, according to the agenda.

Pershing County Water Conservation District filed a petition in August 2015 in the 11th District Court requesting the court require the state engineer to side with the conservation district regarding water rights in over-appropriated river basins. The district amended the petition in 2016.

The conservation district began the proceedings because farmers and ranchers in Pershing County were heavily impacted by drought. Pershing County is near the tail end of the Humboldt that originates in Elko County, and in low-water years not enough flow makes it downstream for the holders of senior water rights.

If the court agrees with the PCWCD, this could have “significant adverse impacts on water rights throughout the Humboldt River Basin,” Utilities Director Ryan Limberg states in the council agenda.

He wrote that curtailment of ground-water pumping could be required in Elko’s segment of the river, which could “hamper the city’s ability to utilize its water rights” and affect the city’s growth and economic development.

“The city has an interest in the matter. If city council approves the legal services agreement with Taggart & Taggart Ltd. that would include filing a motion to intervene,” Limberg said in a Feb. 8 email.

He said acting State Engineer Tim Wilson has responded to the amended petition filed by the Pershing County district.

“In summary, the state engineer requests that the court deny PCWCD’s amended writ petition. In the event the court does not deny the amended write petition, the state engineer requests an evidentiary hearing to present evidence and further requests that this hearing take place at least 60 days from Feb. 4, 2019, to allow the state engineer to adequately prepare for the evidentiary hearing,” Limberg said.

Although the litigation has been pending since 2015, this would be the first time the Elko City Council has considered becoming an intervenor in the legal action. The petition asks the state engineer to bring all over-appropriated basins back to their perennial yield to eliminate pumping that interferes with the Humboldt River.

The petition also asks that mining water rights be treated as permanent rights, rather than temporary.

Limberg said in the agenda that both Newmont Mining Corp. and Barrick Gold Corp. filed motions to intervene in the litigation.

The Nevada Division of Water Resources responded to the petition by commissioning a four-year study, involving the U.S. Geological Survey and the Desert Research Institute. The work includes a model of the hydrology of the Humboldt River Basin.

According to a Jan. 17 article in the Elko Daily Free Press, the study is expected to be completed in early 2020, rather than 2019, with delays partially attributed to the furlough of federal employees.

Curtailment of ground-water pumping could be required in Elko’s segment of the river, which could affect the city’s growth and economic development, according to Utilities Director Ryan Limberg.

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