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A stream running through ranches in Snake Valley, NV

Nevada water law

While the Colorado River is governed by a series of agreements and legal decisions known as “The Law of the River,” Nevada’s groundwater and surface water are managed and governed by the State of Nevada.

The Nevada Division of Water Resources—also known as the office of the State Engineer—was created in 1903 to protect existing water rights and bring about a better method of utilizing the state's water resources. The State Engineer’s office regulates groundwater and surface water resources other than Colorado River water in Nevada.

The General Water Law Act of 1913 gave the office jurisdiction over all wells tapping into artesian water or water in definable underground aquifers.

The 1939 Nevada Underground Water Act granted the State Engineer total jurisdiction over all groundwater in the state. The 1939 act has been amended several times and is now considered one of the most comprehensive groundwater laws in the West.

First in time, first in right 

Nevada water law follows the doctrine of prior appropriation, or "first in time, first in right," meaning the first person to file on a water resource for beneficial use is typically considered first for a permanent right to the water, subject to the State Engineer's determination of available unappropriated water.

Water rights process

Individuals or organizations seeking water rights must file an application with the Nevada Office of the State Engineer.

An application also must be filed for interbasin transfers.