Nevada’s first water statute was enacted in 1866 and has been amended many times since. The water rights law serves the people of Nevada by managing the state’s valuable water resources in a fair and equitable manner. Nevada water law has the flexibility to accommodate new and growing uses of water in Nevada while protecting those who have used the water in the past.[Watercascade] Nevada water law is based on two fundamental concepts: prior appropriation and beneficial use. Prior appropriation (also known as “first in time, first in right”) allows for the orderly use of the state’s water resources by granting priority to senior water rights. This concept ensures the senior uses are protected, even as new uses for water are allocated.
The Nevada Division of Water Resources is responsible for administering and enforcing Nevada water law, which includes the adjudication and appropriation of groundwater and surface water in the state. The purpose of the 1903 legislation was to account for all of the existing water use according to priority. The 1903 act was amended in 1905 to set out a method for appropriation of water not already being put to a beneficial use.
It was not until the passage of the Nevada General Water Law Act of 1913 that the Nevada Division of Water Resources was granted jurisdiction over all wells tapping artesian water or water in definable underground aquifers. The 1939 Nevada Underground Water Act granted the Nevada Division of Water Resources total jurisdiction over all groundwater in the state.
The 1913 and 1939 acts have been amended a number of times, and Nevada’s water law is considered one of the most comprehensive water laws in the West. The above-mentioned acts provide that all water within the boundaries of the state, whether above or beneath the surface of the the ground, belongs to the public.
In addition to these items, other criteria within NRS 533.370 deal with impacts within irrigation districts, the good faith intent of the applicant to construct the works of diversion and put the water to beneficial use, and the financial ability and reasonable expectation to construct the works of diversion and put the water to beneficial use.
Once granted, water rights in Nevada have the standing of both real and personal property – meaning they are conveyed as an appurtenance to real property unless they are specifically excluded in the deed of conveyance. When water rights are purchased or sold as personal property or treated as a separate appurtenance in a real-estate transaction, the water rights are conveyed specifically by a deed of conveyance. It is possible to buy or sell water rights and change the water’s point of diversion, manner of use and place of use by filing the appropriate application with the State Engineer.
The State Engineer has the authority to require a hydrological, environmental or any other study necessary prior to final determination of an application (NRS 533.368).
SOURCE: State of Nevada, Division of Water Resources