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
- 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
- A municipal water line is within 180 feet of the permit's place of
- 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