See Gary’s article “Public trust doctrine on the horizon for Nevada after Walker Lake legal victory” for background information about Walker Lake.
Walker Lake update
In January 2021 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Walker Lake Working Group (WLWG) and Mineral County, Nevada could pursue remedies for restoration of declining Walker Lake, so long as the solutions did not involve reallocation of prior water rights.
The Ninth Circuit then sent the case back down to the US District Court–District of Nevada, in Reno, where Walker Lake proponents found an earlier order from a departed judge still awaiting them. This order required them to hand-serve written notices of their Public Trust claim in the Walker Lake litigation to all riparian landowners in the California portion of the Walker River Basin and to serve all subsequent filings by mail to all Walker Basin water rights holders, living throughout the country, as far away as Hawaii. While the WLWG and Mineral County are making good progress on serving the California riparian owners, that process and the continued burden of having to serve paper copies of every filing on the large total number of water rights holders in the basin is very costly for the Walker Lake proponents.
However, the judiciary, and perhaps even judicial philosophy, have changed in Reno. Chief Judge Miranda M. Du, a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Law, relieved the Walker Lake proponents of the requirement to continue service of paper copies by mail in the future.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically slowed this legal process just when it is most needed to begin the practical application of the Public Trust doctrine to the preservation of the Walker Basin and set a pathbreaking precedent of wildland protection throughout the state of Nevada.
Funding for legal efforts, facilitated by then US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 1994, allowed the WLWG to partner with Mineral County in the hiring of renowned environmental attorney Simeon Herskovits to join them in their Public Trust case. As lead attorney for the Great Basin Water Network, Mr. Herskovits won seven court victories in successfully blocking an attempt by Las Vegas to pump groundwater from rural northeast Nevada southward through a 250-mile pipeline. Previously, he worked with diverse coalitions to defeat a series of attempted water grabs in northern and southern California, including the original Cadiz Water Project.
The WLWG has currently exhausted their financial resources and now find themselves unable to fund future legal efforts, even at pro bono rates, just as the legal tides are turning in their direction. One of the WLWG’s donors has offered to match up to $5,000 in donations, and so I would ask the friends of Mono Lake to send their love—and contributions—to our sister terminus lake.
Top image: USGS Public Domain.