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Unearthed documents reviewed by GBWN expose an animosity toward public interest provisions in the law that protect communities and ecosystems. Powerful interests are working behind the scenes on proposals to overhaul who engages and how in water rights proceedings.


Water belongs to the public.

But a soft coup is underway that threatens Nevada’s safeguards for water. And it’s being waged by developers and a cohort of lobbyists with ties to some of the most powerful industries in Nevada and the West who have long championed groundwater exportation and overuse, according to documents and emails reviewed by the Great Basin Water Network.

Entities with ties to private water developers that are working in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and other states have been crafting the effort for more than a year. Folks with ties to Vidler — now a subsidiary of publicly traded home builder DR Horton — were leading the charge, according to our review. Vidler has a long history of working to turn paper water rights into profits in arid regions of the U.S. But recent legal battles have seemingly pushed a cohort of lobbyists and politicos to take a new approach to acquiring more political power and water in the nation’s driest state.

The proposals would systematically install new layers of subversive bureaucracy to limit meaningful participation, co-opt lawmakers with industry propaganda, and institute new layers of pseudo governmental entities — undermining an existing system where the public can already appeal to courts and take other actions to hold regulators accountable.

Proposals to overhaul our system need to provide more access and less political influence. What we reviewed does not achieve those ends. (SEE PDFs BELOW)

Vidler is not alone in this effort. There were more than 25 well connected people listed on an email reviewed by GBWN, confirming the powerful and
ambitious cohort. 


In the days before a recent legislative meeting, there was an agendized presentation slated to be given by an entity that is a long-time Vidler consultant, Resource Concepts Inc of Carson City. The plan was to pitch an overhaul that — to the unsuspecting and unknowing eye — appeared as a mix of new protections and regulation in the nation’s driest state.

Fortunately, at the last minute, lawmakers pulled the agenda item.

The facade of wonky policy speak apparently didn’t fool anyone. The PowerPoint slide deck and accompanying White Paper were from a group of “citizens, water rights owners, and professional practitioners.” But an email from Donald Pattalock, a former Vidler insider who now represents a major real estate developer depending on Vidler for water in Reno’s north Valleys, paints a picture about who is behind the effort.

Lobbyists who represent Vidler and another well known private water developer, Water Asset Management, were on the email. Representatives and current Vidler employees from Lincoln County, mining consultants, and other water attorneys — as well as officials from the Nevada governor’s office and an outgoing senator — were all included too. One private consultant who has a day job as an impartial scientist at the Desert Research Institute was on the email as well.  A notable name missing from the email: The Nevada State Engineer, Adam Sullivan.

“Attached for your review and comment is the current DRAFT concept that has been developed through the collective efforts of many of you over the course of the past 2 years. This matter has been submitted to be placed on the Interim Committee on Natural Resources agenda for May 10; however, it may be scheduled for a later date this interim session. Your support at the meeting will be influential to bring about the changes our State needs.” 

The proposal includes a “Blue Ribbon Task Force” hand-picked by the governor, a “Water Commission” picked by the governor to increase oversight over the State Engineer, and a “Water Caucus” picked by top legislators so lobbyists who fill their coffers can “educate” them.  There is little insight as to who would be creating criteria, materials, and other components for educating officials. There are no specific examples as to why the current law isn’t working aside from casual references to the limited oversight of the state engineer.

However, the documents don’t recognize the fact that water regulators can hold hearings on contentious applications and aggrieved parties can appeal decisions of water regulators to district courts. Nor did the cohort mention that every attempt to apply for water rights requires that water be available, existing rights remain unharmed, and appropriations be in the public interest. Many of the requests for water that the dozens of entities listed on the email want don’t meet those standards.


As we vet the documents, we see an attempt to emasculate the State Engineer’s authority and duty to protect the public interest by installing a panel of loyal lobbyists who don’t have much concern for ecosystems, senior water rights, or rural communities.

The White Paper from the cohort laments that the “public interest, broadly defined in statute, is used to justify decisions of the State Engineer which otherwise are unsupportable under the law.”

That sentence reads like it is written by someone who believes that corporate interests should trump all other interests. It glazes over the fact that we have a robust judicial review statute that allows “anyone aggrieved” by a final decision from the State Engineer to sue the state. The interpretation of “unsupportable” is hyperbolic and unfounded. The sentence, unfortunately, also reads like it was written by someone who just lost a major case in the Nevada Supreme Court.

The state’s high court recently delivered strong affirmations of the public interest in Sullivan vs Lincoln County Water District and upheld actions by the State Engineer that consider the over-allocation of water and impacts on senior rights holders too. Go figure.

It is worth underscoring that Sullivan is the current State Engineer not included in the recent efforts to undermine his authority. Lincoln County Water District is a government entity partially controlled by Vidler. The legal fallout from the Sullivan case requires a remand to the district court on issues dealing with water availability. The ongoing saga could jeopardize how Vidler and Lincoln County harness Coyote Springs, a massive development in the desert north of Las Vegas.

The saga of Vidler and private water development has been ongoing for decades in Nevada and other western states, as catalogued by Jake Bittle in Grist last year.

In the early 2000s, developers dreamed up Coyote Springs as a customer of the Las Vegas Pipeline. And long-time followers probably recall Vidler buying up ranch properties in Eastern Nevada and selling one to SNWA for the water rights.

Friends of GBWN may also know Vidler and real estate developers like Pattalock are still working at breakneck speed to sprawl Reno’s North Valley’s with imported water from Honey Lake Valley, a pipeline fight that lingered for years and cost Vidler and its investors considerable sums to partially win.

Vidler awaits the completion of more suburban sprawl in Reno’s North Valleys to start putting the majority of their rights to use. But the company and others are hoping to take billions of more gallons out of the desert in Honey Lake Valley. And that will certainly require filing applications with the State Engineer and overcoming the objections of the concerned public.

A new paper from the University of Virginia highlights that Vidler has 13,000 acre feet of paper water rights. A settlement agreement allows them to use 8,000 acre feet now. Vidler built a pipeline with a capacity for 22,000 acre feet of water rights. The water brokers still have gigantic aspirations for the Biggest Little City.


We hope lawmakers see this proposal for what it is: an effort to undermine the only safeguards we have.

While some of the coalition’s dreams would require statutory changes, others wouldn’t. But let’s not let it get that far. The public interest is a mélange of economic and environmental considerations. It helped stop the Vegas pipeline and may serve as a means of getting real about water availability in Coyote Springs.

We will be vigilantly standing guard and reporting what we hear next. All we can ask is this: Lawmakers must not give this proposed overhaul any consideration.

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