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State engineer talks water rights; possibly not enough for Coyote Springs development

LAS VEGAS - Painting a water picture in and around the Moapa Valley is bleak, so the state engineer is looking for solutions to avoid having to cut people off from their own water rights.

"This is what we're trying to avoid, and that's a train wreck," said Jason King, state engineer.

King made the statements during a very blunt presentation to more than 100 people, many of whom have water rights in the valley around U.S. 93 and I-15 northeast of Las Vegas.

"We had an aquifer test of just a fraction of how much water rights can be developed out there, and what we saw were impacts to streams and potential stream flow," King said.

Some 40,000 acre-feet of water per year is allocated out of five interconnected basins, and as of 2001, people have applied for the rights to some 300,000 more acre-feet.

So what does that mean for a long-stalled major housing development in Coyote Springs, which is near the Clark County/ Lincoln County line?

That year, state officials pumped the brakes on the project, and nearly a decade and a half later, in 2014, they denied all claims for new water rights. It was last year when King denied approval of the Coyote Springs subdivision map, triggering litigation.

"We cannot justify approval of subdivision maps based on junior priority water rights without the identification of other water sources for development," King said. 

That means the state engineer doesn't believe there's enough water for the 42,000-acre development that was to house up to 150,000 homes, even though the Las Vegas Valley Water District spent $25 million to buy part of the water rights that go with the property to provide water for the development.

The scope of the project at Coyote Springs is pretty massive, but there are people who are not very excited about it.

"We can understand why others would like to take water from it, but please don't let them do it," said Robert Lewis, an Overton resident.

"Since Coyote Springs started pumping, the spring's not flowing anymore, and it's gradually gone down," said Melborn Perkins, a farmer.

"If they simply say that there's not enough water for them; they should go home. That'd be great," said Louie Pennozetta of Pioche.

During the meeting Tuesday, the only testimony that was in support of Coyote Springs came from the development itself.

"Coyote Springs Investment objects to the imposition of any restrictions on the use of its water and asks that all decisions of the state engineer be transparent and be motivated only by science," said Emelia Cargill, COO, Coyote Springs.

Due to the pending litigation, both Coyote Springs Chief Operating Officer Emelia Cargill and the state engineer declined interviews related to the development.

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