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Know the West

Nevada ranchers win water rights

  Nevada's attorney general recently upheld a 1995 state law that took away the Bureau of Land Management's right to hold stock-water rights. The state said the privilege belonged solely to ranchers.

Since the agency doesn't own cattle, said the attorney general, it can't put a stock-water right to beneficial use. "Water's a special resource," explained deputy state attorney Wayne Howle, and "over the years, Congress has always left water to the states."

A stock-water right, however, has never given ranchers the right to build needed improvements like water troughs and stock ponds. Because the BLM still controls these additions, grazing activist Rose Strickland anticipates problems. "Why would the feds put taxpayer money into water rights owned by a private individual?" she asks.

BLM officials agree. "It's a catch-22," says agency official Terry Woosley. "We will not contribute (to improvements) if we do not hold a portion of the water."

It remains unclear what practical impact the decison will have on water use in Nevada. The state engineer's office says it will now turn down a backlog of 99 applications from the BLM for stock-water permits, according to deputy engineer Christine Thiel.

*Sarah Dry