Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 8, 2023


Patrick Donnelly, (702) 483-0449,

Landmark Water Case Reaches Nevada Supreme Court

Conservationists Face Off Against Real Estate Developers, Water Speculators

CARSON CITY, Nev.— A 15-year campaign to stop real estate developers and water speculators from building a sprawling new city in the middle of the Nevada desert will come before the state Supreme Court today.

The Lower White River Flow System litigation features 18 parties arguing over the scarce water resources of an ancient carbonate aquifer system in Clark County, Nev., and the endangered Moapa dace, which relies on springs supplied by that aquifer to survive.

The aquifer is coveted by developers of Coyote Springs, a proposed city of 250,000 people 50 miles outside of Las Vegas, and the water speculators supporting them.

“Greedy real estate developers and water speculators want us to deny science and pretend the desert has an unlimited water supply,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The ancient fossil carbonate aquifer underlying the Lower White River Flow System is a finite resource that is already spoken for by the endangered Moapa dace.”

The Moapa dace is a small, four-inch fish that lives exclusively in groundwater-fed springs in the Muddy River area northeast of Las Vegas. The Muddy River flows through the Moapa Valley before emptying into the Colorado River at Lake Mead, where it becomes drinking water for Las Vegas and cities from Phoenix to Los Angeles.

In 2020 the Nevada state engineer, who manages water in the driest state in the country, issued an order designating the aquifer as a single unit and determining how much groundwater could sustainably be pumped from it.

Today the Center, the Nevada state engineer, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Muddy Valley Irrigation Company will argue the state engineer was within his authority to use the best available science to manage water so pumping in one location does not harm water resources — and the species that depend on them — elsewhere.

“This groundwater basin lives up to the maxim what’s good for the fish is good for the people,” said Donnelly. “By defending the aquifer needed to sustain the Moapa dace, we’re also defending the drinking water coming out of people’s taps in Las Vegas.”

At issue is a 2022 lower court ruling that the state engineer could not use the best available science in rendering decisions and that water basin boundaries are unchanging.

Water speculator Vidler Water Resources, Inc. will argue in support of the lower court ruling. The company has applied for billions of gallons of water rights which could be used to irrigate golf courses and swimming pools at Coyote Springs.

“Speculators want water managers to ignore science and dole out water to whoever has the highest-price lawyers,” said Donnelly. “We’re confident the Nevada Supreme Court will agree that science and the law should govern water management, not power and money.”

Moapa dace. Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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