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Las Vegas Valley Water Law
The Las Vegas groundwater basin is the most comprehensively managed basin in Nevada and with good reason. The basin has been over-appropriated for almost 50 years.

In 1941, the Office of the State Engineer used provisions of the Nevada Underground Water Act of 1939 to designate a portion of the Las Vegas Valley as an underground artesian water basin. This designated area was extended in 1944 and 1946, and a portion of the basin was closed to new irrigation rights in 1949, effectively halting growth. To accommodate the demand for growth, legislation was passed in 1955 that enabled the Office of the State Engineer to issue temporary permits for water, also known as revocable permits.

Temporary or revocable permits
Although the continued demand for water was greater than the supply of groundwater in the Las Vegas basin, state officials knew that the Las Vegas Valley eventually would have access to surface water from the Colorado River and Lake Mead, once facilities were built to move that water. Consequently, temporary permits were issued with the understanding that the permit holders would use groundwater until the time when their properties could be served with Lake Mead water from a municipal purveyor.

In the decades since that time, the Office of the State Engineer has issued a series of orders to restrict the issuance of revocable water permits within the Las Vegas Valley.  These orders culminated with the issuance of Amended Order 1054 in April 1992. Under this order, with rare exception, all applications to appropriate water filed after March 23, 1992, will be denied.

Currently, there are three basic types of groundwater rights or permits in the Las Vegas groundwater basin: vested, nonrevocable, and revocable. These rights or permits are managed and administered by the Office of the State Engineer.

  • Vested--To be determined valid for a vested right, a well must have been in existence and beneficially using groundwater from an artesian or definable aquifer before March 22, 1913, or from a percolating aquifer before March 25, 1939.
     
  • Nonrevocable--Nonrevocable water permits have a priority date before March 24, 1955. As indicated by their name, nonrevocable water permits cannot be revoked.  However, they are subject to forfeiture and abandonment as outlined in NRS 534.090.
     
  • Revocable--A revocable permit has a priority date on or after March 24, 1955 and is subject to revocation if and when water can be furnished by an entity such as a water district or municipality.  Most community wells in the Las Vegas Valley have this type of groundwater permit.

When are permits revoked?
Under legislation passed in 1999, the Office of the State Engineer cannot revoke a temporary or revocable permit unless all three of the following conditions occur:

  • A municipal water line is within 180 feet of the permit's place of use
  • The well fails and requires work that involves a drilling rig
  • Financial assistance is provided to the well user to help pay for the cost of connection

     

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