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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 at 8:50 PM

$25 Million Water Initiative to Retire Groundwater Rights

Regional Water Authorities Pursue Funding for Voluntary Water Rights Retirement in Central Nevada
$25 Million Water Initiative to Retire Groundwater Rights
Dry winter in 2015 at Lahontan Dam after summer irrigation by Leanna Lehman.

The Central Nevada Regional Water Authority (CNRWA) and Humboldt River Basin Water Authority (HRBWA) have recently greenlit the submission of applications for the acquisition and retirement of groundwater rights voluntarily offered by sellers.

Backed by a $25 million allocation from the Nevada Water Conservation and Infrastructure Initiative, these funds will facilitate the purchase and permanent retirement of groundwater rights from willing sellers within groundwater basins struggling to meet the demands of water rights and domestic wells.

This initiative extends its support to over-appropriated and over-pumped groundwater basins situated in the Central Hydrographic Region and the Humboldt River Basin. Importantly, the program takes into account and seeks to prevent conflicts with existing rights, as well as any harm to the public interest and natural resources. The intended outcome is the stabilization of groundwater levels.

Funding priorities are concentrated on retiring irrigation rights in over-pumped basins that face potential curtailment. Additionally, consideration will be given to purchasing groundwater rights in other over-appropriated basins if such transactions serve to mitigate conflicts with existing rights or safeguard natural resources.

Pending approval in October, CNRWA and HRBWA anticipate commencing the application process in early December, requiring the submission of a list of prospective sellers to the state by February 1, 2024.

The Central Nevada Regional Water Authority, established in 2005, plays a crucial role in assisting member counties (Churchill, Elko, Esmeralda, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Nye, Pershing, and White Pine) in addressing water resource challenges. Its mission is to secure an economic future for these counties while preserving their cherished quality of life and natural environment.

The Central Hydrographic Region, Nevada's largest hydrographic region, encompasses 23 over-appropriated groundwater basins. Notably, nine of these over-appropriated basins located in CNRWA member counties, are also over-pumped. Approximately 90% of groundwater extraction in the Central Hydrographic Region is allocated for irrigation purposes.

Established in 1995, the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority was formed with the aim of ensuring the quality and availability of water supplies within the Humboldt River Basin. This endeavor serves the mutual benefit of residents, industries, and visitors in Humboldt, Lander, Eureka, Elko, and Pershing Counties.

Within the Humboldt River Basin, certain groundwater pumping activities have led to water shortages for senior decreed surface water rights. Furthermore, 19 of the 34 groundwater basins in this region are deemed over-appropriated, with nine falling into the category of over-pumped. Approximately 70% of groundwater extraction in the over-pumped basins of the Humboldt Basin is earmarked for irrigation.

The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources administers the Initiative, which receives support from funding allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act.