Water Rights Fight
Nevada Attorney General's Legal Opinion
Sides with Cowboys Against Clintonistas

Elko Daily Free Press

A Nevada Attorney General's opinion released Wednesday shot down a major provision of the Clinton Administration's proposed 'range land reform' agenda by upholding the constitutionality of a 1995 state law.
The law was designed to blocks efforts by the Bureau of Land Management to gain control of Nevada water rights.
The 34-page opinion, written by Deputy Attorney General George Taylor, holds that the BLM cannot hold stock watering rights because the BLM does not own livestock.
The law states the watering permits and certificates of appropriations are limited to those applicants who are "legally entitled to place the livestock on the public lands for which the permit is being sought." The bill amended several provisions in Nevada Revised Statute 533.
But because of the language in Senate Bill 96, the law only applies to the BLM.
The opinion says state law considers those lands managed by the BLM to be "public lands" as opposed to those lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. National Parks Service as "reserved lands." Pete Morros, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, asked for the opinion. Morros said today he has not had a chance to read the document and will comment later.
State Sen. Dean Rhoads of Tuscarora, the bill's author, said the opinion is history-making.



"It really is amazing that the opinion came out the way it did," Rhoads said today from his legislative office in Carson City. "The attorney general normally goes with the federal government on these types of issues." Rhoads said the implementation of the law will be felt all the way to Washington, D.C.
"This has been a truly historical ruling and will send shock waves to the other western public land states on Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt's range land reform proposal," Rhoads said in a news release.
Babbitt's range land reform included language that "any such water right shall be acquired, perfected, maintained and administered in the name of the United States." The law also forbids the BLM from holding the watering rights as a joint user, again because the BLM does not own livestock.
"The BLM is not a qualified applicant for stock water permits ... since it does not, itself hold grazing permits or leases," the opinion states.
Elko County Commissioner Lee Chapman, who also serves on the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority, said the opinion is a common-sense statement.


 
"It upholds the state concept that if you file for a right, then you have to use the same thing you applied for," Chapman said.
Gene Gustin, chairman of Elko County's Public Land Use Advisory Commission, said the law makes a challenge to Babbitt.
"I think it's going to disarm one of the major tenets of this so-called range land reform," Gustin said.
Gustin said the county has several protests on file against federal agencies seeking water rights and the opinion reinforces those protests.
Spring Creek resident Ed Presley, an outspoken opponent to range land




reform and federal interference in state issues, said he was surprised by the opinion, considering its source.
"This is a breath of fresh air in the restoration of constitutional law," Presley said.
"However, I'm always a little leery whenever the scoundrels do the right thing." Presley and other states' rights advocates have on several occasions voiced opposition to policies and decisions emanating from the state Attorney General's Office and Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa.
"I just wonder if she's looking at the political aspect of all this," Presley said.


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