Nevada Water Law

The water we pump from our domestic well or receive from a utility connection does not belong to us as individuals. Rather, all waters within the state of Nevada, whether above or beneath the surface of the ground, belong to the public. We are welcome to use the water for beneficial purposes, but must do so according to Nevada Water Law that governs the administration of Nevada's waters.

The Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Division of Water Resources (NDWR) is responsible for management of Nevada's water resources on the public's behalf. The NDWR, directed by the Nevada State Engineer, is responsible for the allocation of the public waters of the State, administering the law, and resolving disputes.

The State Engineer's actions and decisions are bound by Nevada Water Law in the Nevada Revised Statues (NRS). The Nevada Water Law implements regulations in the related Nevada Administrative Code and numerous court decisions which have further defined the law.

Nevada Revised Statutes, Title 49

  • Chapter 532 - State Engineer
  • Chapter 533 - Adjudication of Vested Water Rights; Appropriation of Public Waters
  • Chapter 534 - Underground Water and Wells
  • Chapter 534A - Geothermal Resources
  • Chapter 535 - Dams and Other Obstructions
  • Chapter 536 - Ditches, Canals, Flumes, and Other Conduits
  • Chapter 537 - Navigable Waters
  • Chapter 538 - Interstate Waters, Compacts, and Commissions

Nevada Administrative Code

  • Chapter 445A - Water Controls
  • Chapter 533 - Adjudication of Vested Water Rights; Appropriation of Public Water
  • Chapter 534 - Underground Water and Wells

Allocation of Water

When decisions are made as to the allocation of water to those wanting to put it to use, Nevada Water Law underlies the decision based on two fundamental concepts: "prior appropriation" and "beneficial use."

Prior Appropriation

Prior appropriation (also known as "first in time, first in right") allows for the orderly use of the state's water resources by granting priority to senior water rights. Under this doctrine, the first users of the water from a watercourse or a groundwater basin acquire a priority right to the water and the extent of its use under that right. This concept ensures the senior uses are protected, even as new uses for water are allocated.

Beneficial Use

All water may be appropriated for beneficial use as provided in NRS Chapters 533 and 534. Agricultural irrigation, mining, recreation, commercial/industrial and municipal uses are examples of beneficial uses, among others.

Prepared by Water Law Presentation 2017 Legislation Nevada Water Resources Association Event, Reno, NV July 26, 2017
King, Jason PE State Engineer