Many people throughout the U.S. don’t give much thought to water. They go to the sink, or get in the shower, turn the tap and there it is. However, in many places in the western United States, such as Nevada, water is a scarce resource, and is utilized by many types of organizations and businesses. As such, there can sometimes be disagreements on who gets to use some amount of water from a particular source. To deal with this, Nevada, like many states, has come up with a legal framework for dealing with water rights.
The first thing to understand is that water rights are considered private property, and as such can be bought, sold or traded between and among individuals and businesses. It should be noted that it is the use of the water right that is property, not the right itself. Part of Nevada’s regulatory framework is the concept of “use it or lose it.” This is, a person or entity with a water right must put that right to actual, beneficial use, rather than just speculating on the possible future use of the right.
But, what is considered a “beneficial use?” While there is no concrete definition, examples of beneficial use are mining, recreation, watering livestock, irrigation of agriculture and commercial, industrial and municipal use. Along with beneficial use and “use it or lose it,” the third prong of the state’s prior appropriation doctrine is seniority of right. This means that water rights are given out on a first-use first-served basis. Persons or entities that have already been putting water to beneficial use will get priority over late comers.
It should be realized that while the above is the general structure of water rights in Nevada, it gets much more complicated. Because these rights can become contested, and can be vital to the success of a business, those with questions about the use of water rights in Nevada may wish to consider speaking with an experienced business litigation attorney.