Editorial: No need for murky water law changes

 

Two bills proposing to alter water use policy are pending in the Nevada Legislature. They are at best problematic.

Assembly Bill 30 appears to give the state engineer greater leeway in the use of monitoring, management and mitigations — known in the jargon as 3M — to resolve conflicts in water rights. The language is rather vague and subject to interpretation.

Assembly Bill 51 appears to give the state engineer more flexibility in what is called conjunctive management of water. While current law treats surface water and groundwater as interchangeable in a basin in the scheme of allocations, AB51 tells the state engineer to adopt regulations that mitigate conflicts between the two water sources.

Nevada water law is based on the concept of prior authorization, in other words the first one to use a water resource has priority or senior water rights. Those who come later, if there is enough water available, have junior rights that must yield to the senior rights if supply becomes inadequate for any reason.

The Great Basin Water Network, an organization that has been fighting attempts for years by the Las Vegas Valley water provider to tap groundwater in eastern Nevada basins, suspects these two bills are intended to give the state engineer the flexibility needed to allow the project to reach fruition.

GBWN says the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s $15 billion groundwater importation plan would pump 58 billion gallons of groundwater annually in a 300-mile pipeline to Las Vegas. They say the Bureau of Land Management has estimated the project would irreparably harm 305 springs, 112 miles of streams, 8,000 acres of wetlands, and 191,000 acres of shrub land habitat.

A federal judge has so far blocked the water grab from Spring, Cave, Dry Lake and Delamar valleys, saying the state engineer failed to establish any objective criteria for when mitigation — such as halting pumping — would have to be initiated. The engineer plans to appeal that ruling, but a change in state law could moot that.

GBWN questions the effectiveness of the two bills’ calls for monetary compensation and water replacement to make whole senior water rights owners.

Abby Johnson, GBWN’s president, says in an op-ed she has penned for area newspapers, “From ranchers to environmentalists, there is a consensus that we don’t need to fix what isn’t broken. Nevada water law has served Nevadans well for more than 100 years and continues to serve the public interest. That success, however, has stymied a select few.”

The select few, Johnson says, include real estate developers and the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which has “not had much luck in recent years getting what they want under the current legal and regulatory framework. Why? Because what they want is to facilitate unsustainable over-pumping of the state’s fragile, limited groundwater resources.”

She adds, “ The problem –– for all of us –– is that they want water that either doesn’t exist or already belongs to someone else.”

Johnson further charges that the change in law would grant the state engineer “czar-like powers to unilaterally choose winners and losers without regard to senior water rights holders’ existing property rights … which would mire Nevada water rights owners and the state government in complex and unpredictable litigation for years.”

Assemblyman John Ellison of Elko released a statement saying the bills would constitute an unconstitutional “taking” of water rights and said a recent hearing saw a consensus of opposition from industry, ranchers and farmers and not one person testifying in support of either bill.

“We cannot allow an unelected bureaucrat to wield this much power over one of our state’s most precious resources. I’m reminded of the famous Mark Twain quote, ‘Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.’” Ellison said. “I will never stop fighting for the rights of senior property rights owners in my district and throughout Nevada.”

Though Twain probably never said that, it sounds like something he would say and is apropos to the current situation. AB 30 and AB51 need to be sent down the drain.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Source: Editorial: No need for murky water law changes


Newspaper column: Gun background check law is a futile gesture

 

The frequency of gun violence calls for a senseless and futile gesture and Nevada Democratic lawmakers are just the ones to do it.

In a matter of days this past week the Nevada Legislature passed Senate Bill 143, which requires background checks to be conducted prior to the sale or transfer of any firearm by a private individual to anyone other than an immediate family member. It passed both the state Senate and Assembly without a single Republican vote. Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed the bill shortly after the Assembly passed it Friday.

The bill is an effort to fix the fundamental flaw that made a similar background check requirement narrowly approved by voters in 2016 unenforceable. The backers of the ballot initiative, Question 1, tried to avoid having a fiscal note saying how much the background checks would cost Nevada taxpayers by requiring the checks to be run through an FBI database and not the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History, which handles all background checks for federally licensed gun dealers in the states. The FBI refused to do the checks and the attorney general declared the law unenforceable and a district court judge agreed.

SB143 requires the state criminal history repository to be used.

Question 1 passed with only 50.45 percent of the voters approving it, failing in every county except Clark. Ninety percent of Eureka County voters rejected it, as did 82 percent in Elko and White Pine, 74 percent in Nye, 88 percent in Lincoln, 76 percent in Mineral and 89 percent in Esmeralda, for example.

In pressing for passage of the bill Friday an assembly member mentioned the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school a year earlier and read the names of those killed.

Another mentioned the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting that left 58 dead at a Las Vegas country music festival as being a reason to require background checks on private firearms sales.

The New York Times a year ago reported that the guns used in both of these shootings, as well as 17 others in recent years, were all obtained legally and the shooters all passed background checks, though a couple probably should not have. So this law would have done nothing to prevent any of those shootings.

Additionally, the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California Davis partnered with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to study the impact of a similar California background check law passed in 1991. The study found that over the next decade there was no impact whatsoever on firearm homicide and suicide rates.

UC Davis and Johns Hopkins earlier looked at two states that repealed similar background check laws in 1998 and found that over the next decade there was no impact on the rate of firearm deaths.

While SB143 would have no impact whatsoever on gun violence, it would impose considerable costs and time to be spent for those law-abiding Nevadans who try to comply with the rather vague law. Running afoul of the law once is a gross misdemeanor and more than once is a felony.

The law requires both private gun seller and buyer to appear together with the firearm at a licensed gun dealer. Since such dealers are usually open during regular business hours, presumably both buyer and seller would have to take time off from work to do so. The law also says the dealer may charge a reasonable fee, though reasonable is not defined.

One dealer testified this past week that currently background checks can tie up employees for a half hour and sometimes up to two hours. “That’s money out of my pocket,” she said.

How many dealers will be willing to actually perform such background checks, if any, and at what “reasonable” fee?

The law does not go into effect until Jan. 2, 2020. What was the rush? Couldn’t some of these unknowns have been addressed before ramming the bill through merely to satisfy Democrats’ liberal base with a feel good measure that will accomplish nothing?

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Source: Newspaper column: Gun background check law is a futile gesture