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Southern Nevada Water Authority

Nevada Water Law

Nevada Water Law

Nevada’s groundwater and surface water
are managed and governed by the State.

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) is the state entity that regulates groundwater and surface water resources other than Colorado River water.

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 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 a number of 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.

For more information, see the State Engineer’s website.

Nevada water law was created more than 100 years ago to manage the state's water resources in an equitable manner. The Office of the State Engineer is responsible for administering water law and managing Nevada's water resources.

Water Rights Process

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

The application must include a map prepared by a water rights surveyor that shows the point of diversion and place of use of the water. By law, an application must be for the water from one source to be used for one purpose. Multiple sources or uses cannot be included in the application.

Once the application and map are properly completed, a notice must be sent to a newspaper in the area where the application was filed. This notice is published for approximately 30 days.

Interested parties may file a formal protest up until 30 days after the last day of publication. The protesting party must explain its objections to the application and include a request for denial or other appropriate action by the State Engineer.

After the protest period, the application is ready for action by the State Engineer, who considers a variety of issues before granting water rights

  • Is there unappropriated water at the source?
  • Does the proposed application conflict with existing rights?
  • Will the water use prove detrimental to the public interest?
  • Will the water use adversely impact domestic wells?

The State Engineer also considers the impacts within irrigation districts, the good faith intent of the applicant to construct the diversion works and put the water to beneficial use, and the applicant's financial ability and reasonable expectation to construct the diversion works and put the water to beneficial use.


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