Attorney seeks new judge for Vegas water rights challenge

Published: Sunday, July 15 2012 11:46 p.m. MDT

LAS VEGAS — A new judge will be found to hear a legal challenge of a plan to pump groundwater from rural eastern Nevada and pipe it to the Las Vegas area, officials said Thursday.

Attorney Simeon Herskovits said he exercised a right to transfer the case from former Nevada Supreme Court Justice Miriam Shearing to another judge.

Herskovits represents a coalition appealing the top Nevada state water official's decision to let the Southern Nevada Water Authority draw millions of gallons a year from sparsely populated eastern Nevada valleys.

Herskovits wasn't required to state a reason for the challenge and declined to provide one. He filed the challenge on June 4 in Nevada state court in White Pine County.

"There's nothing controversial about it," Herskovits told The Associated Press. "It's just the right decision for us, to seek another judge."

Shearing, who became Nevada's first female Supreme Court justice in 1992, is now a senior judge who fills in occasionally at district courts around the state. She didn't immediately respond Thursday to a message seeking comment.

Senior judges are assigned through the Nevada Supreme Court, where spokesman Bill Gang said he expected a new judge would be appointed once justices receive a request from the Seventh District Court.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Seventh District judges Steve Dobrescu and Dan Papez previously disqualified themselves from the case. The district serves Lincoln, White Pine and Eureka counties.

Dobrescu cited personal friendships with plaintiffs. Papez, a former White Pine County district attorney, filed the county's opposition to the water authority groundwater applications.

The coalition in the civil lawsuit includes White Pine, Lincoln and several other Nevada counties, advocacy groups including the Great Basin Water Network, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, and Nevada and Utah residents.

The cases involve appeals of state Engineer Jason King's March 22 order granting the Southern Nevada Water Authority permission to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from four rural valleys in Lincoln and White Pine counties. Water officials say one acre-foot of water can supply two average Las Vegas-area homes for a year.

The water authority plans to pipe the water from the Ely area to Las Vegas through a multibillion-dollar network of pipelines stretching more than 300 miles. The water would increase by more than 25 percent the amount of water available to the Las Vegas area per year. The pipeline hasn't been built, and implementation is expected to take years.

The rulings provide for drilling and pumping water in stages, with two years of biological and groundwater flow monitoring after mitigation and management programs are in place in each water basin.

King's ruling drew nine separate petitions for judicial review. Some were filed in the White Pine County seat of Ely. Some were filed in the Lincoln County seat of Pioche.

Herskovits is responsible for four of the petitions. He filed a request May 18 to have all nine consolidated into a single case.

"They all overlap very closely and share the same records," he said.

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