Federal Agency Officials Attempt to Drum Up
Popular Pressure on State Water Engineer

By Don Bowman
copyright (c) 1997, Don Bowman

In an action that Eureka County, Nevada officials are calling unethical, the U.S. Forest Service appears to be attempting to influence a State of Nevada legal officer in state water hearings.
The USFS paid to have a public appeal published in at least two newspapers -- the Death Valley Gazette and the Tonopah Times Bonanza.
Assistant U.S. Forest Service Supervisor Monica Schwalbach, in the published ad, called for the State of Nevada to "integrate contemporary values with antiquated laws" and -- after a long recitation of the federal agency's position in the currently-recessed Monitor Valley Water Hearings -- solicited letters to State Water Engineer Mike Turnipseed. Three federal attorneys and a host of supporting staff already represent the USFS in the hearings.
"The important thing," says Schwalbach's ad, "is that the people of Nevada do believe it is important to keep the water in the streams so that our fish have a place to live and our deer, birds and butterflies have a place to drink."
The letter then says that people care about ranchers too, but believe that water is "not for the single dominant use of livestock grazing."
Schwalbach called upon people to write Turnipseed and express their views regarding water.
Wild game and fish have flourished and



coexisted with agriculture since the introduction of livestock in Nevada. But in recent years the U.S. Forest Service has sought to use those concerns to nullify long-recognized private property rights on federal land, legal rights in many cases established by private usage even before the USFS was established.
The adjudication process now underway at the State Engineer's Office is to determine who legally owns the rights to water in Nevada's Monitor Valley. Primary contestants in the hearings are the U.S. Forest Service and ranchers in that part of Nye County. Most well-known of the latter is Wayne Hage, who is pursuing a takings case for millions of dollars against the USFS. Some observers view the USFS actions in the state water adjudication as an attempt to make an end-run around proceedings in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, where Forest Service attorneys last year suffered significant defeats.
Schwalbach's letter, says Eureka County Deputy District Attorney Zane Miles, is entirely inappropriate.
"For a federal officer to bring extra-judicial pressure on a quasi-


 
judicial officer is absolutely reprehensible," he said. "If there is an argument that Nevada's water laws should be changed, it should be a matter for legislative determination."
Miles also says it is questionable whether a federal agency official can use his or her position to lobby the state legislature.
Pete Giocochea, chairman of the Eureka County Commission, said that if federal agencies can take away water




rights at will, as they now seek, the very existence of western ranching and mining is at risk.
"Nevada's metropolitan areas ought to be as concerned as we are," he said. "The feds could use the same arguments they are attempting to sell to the State Engineer in [the case of] Monitor Valley, to take water belonging to Reno, Las Vegas, and Carson City."


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