Nevada State Engineer Adam Sullivan has announced that claimants of pre-statutory water rights must submit proof of water use to the State Engineer on or before December 31, 2027. If a claimant does not meet the deadline, then the claim will be deemed abandoned.
Nevada’s water rights, like most of the western states, are based on the fundamental concepts of prior appropriation and beneficial use. Prior appropriation (also known as “first in time, first in right”) allows for the orderly use of the state’s public water resources by granting priority to senior water rights. This concept ensures the senior uses are protected, even when new uses for water are allocated. Beneficial use is self-explanatory, meaning that the water is consistently used for mining, agriculture and various other purposes and not forfeited or abandoned. Legally recognized water rights with the earliest priority are the senior rights and can be valuable. For instance and very simplistically, if you own land with water having an 1866 priority to a stream and your neighbor has water rights to that same stream with a 1901 priority, if the stream is short on water, you get your share first, even if it means that there is not enough water for your neighbor.
Pre-statutory rights are legally recognized when they are vested and proven. They do not involve permits because the permitting agency was not yet created by statute. According to the Schroeder Law Offices, Nevada had three statutory allocation tiers:
- March 1, 1905 – Surface water code.
- March 22, 1913 – Artesian groundwater.
- March 22, 1939: Groundwater code.
The deadline was authorized under Senate Bill 270 of the 79th Session (2017) Legislature, which was approved by Governor Sandoval on June 9, 2017.