Tribe wins round in water rights fight
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JULY 6, 2001

A federal appeals court on Thursday sided with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada and ruled that the tribe's objections to a water rights transfer weren't properly considered by a state engineer.

Despite introducing "substantial evidence" against the transfer, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the engineer may have wrongly dismissed the tribe and the United States government's concerns. A federal court must now re-consider the evidence, said a two-judge panel of the court.

The ruling centers on contested use of water from Pyramid Lake, described as one of North America's most beautiful desert lakes. Although the tribe historically received the entire flow of the lake, the waters have been diverted by irrigation projects and droughts over the years.

The diversion has not only resulted in loss of water -- a precious resource in the West -- but also the dwindling of several species of fish, including the endangered cui-ui, a type of sucker fish. The tribe has been seeking more water so that the fish can spawn.

To prevent losing the water, the tribe is opposing the transfer of water to the town of Fernley. The tribe and the United States contend the rights to 280 acre-feet of water were abandoned and under Nevada law, cannot be given to the town, who wants to use it for municipal and industrial purposes.

A state engineer, however, said the tribe and the government failed to prove their case. He dismissed a number of their claims, which were then appealed to federal court.

The district court in Nevada initially agreed with the dismissals. But yesterday, two judges on the 9th Circuit said the court misinterpreted Nevada water law and therefore the evidence must be looked at again.

While agreeing with reversing the lower court decision, one judge dissented from the ruling, saying that the others are wrongly applying case law.

Get the Decision:
US v. ORR WATER DITCH, CO., No 99-16812 (9th Cir. July 05, 2001)

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