RENO, Nev. (AP) — Developers are asking a Nevada judge to overturn a moratorium on new groundwater pumping north of Reno that critics say are hampering efforts to build homes to help address the region's housing crisis.
The state engineer ordered a halt to new pumping in December in Cold Springs Valley about 15 miles (25 kilometers) north of downtown.
A lawyer for two entities with water rights in the valley is seeking a reversal of the order, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported.
Tim Wilson, the state's top water official, issued the temporary pumping ban while the Division of Water Resources awaits more information about the sustainability of the valley's groundwater supply.
The moratorium makes exceptions for developments that would import water via pipeline, including the proposed 5,000-unit Stonegate development. Pumping to support existing homes in the valley isn't affected by the order.
Nevertheless, the attorney for Woodland Village and Bordertown said Friday the evidence suggests there's plenty of groundwater remaining in Cold Spring Valley.
"We just don’t think there is a reason currently the moratorium needs to go in," attorney Tim O'Connor told the Gazette Journal. "I don't think this is a problem area."
O'Connor filed a series of petitions in state court in Washoe County seeking to overturn the moratorium and addressing other water-related decisions.
Samantha Thompson, a spokesperson for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which includes the Division of Water Resources, said officials will review the petition next week.
O'Connor argues in court filings that the moratorium is "rooted in unscientific methods and approaches."
In issuing the moratorium Dec. 20, Wilson cited another developer's pending claims to about 1,100 acre-feet of water.
Should the developer, Heinz Holdco, establish the water rights through a process called adjudication it could strain groundwater resources in the area, where homes and businesses already have rights to about 1,800 acre-feet of groundwater.
The state estimates natural inflows to the valley are only about 500 acre-feet, although hydrologists have said the true number is likely higher and it doesn't include the return flows of treated wastewater.
O'Connor said the fact wells in the valley show little to no evidence of significant declines shows current pumping levels are sustainable.
"I have never seen any data that showed water levels are dropping at an unsustainable level," he said.
The filings also argue the state is erring in assuming Heinz will establish rights to another 1,100 acre -feet.
Woodland Village and Bordertown developers say Heinz has already forfeited the rights by not exercising them sooner.
"The State Engineer's own staff noted the continuous non-use of the vested groundwater," one petition states. "Nevertheless, the State Engineer did not take the statutorily required action of declaring the groundwater rights forfeit."
By issuing the moratorium, O'Connor said the state is preventing new development that could help alleviate the housing shortage that plagues Reno and surrounding communities.
The Cold Spring Valley, home to the community of Cold Springs, has grown from about 500 homes and 2,000 people in 1979 to more than 3,000 homes and more than 8,500 people today.
"The moratorium is put in place while we gather evidence for a problem that doesn’t exist," O'Connor said. "We’ve got water rights banked ... that could be developed but for this moratorium."