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Walker Lake case returns to federal court

by Nevada State News
Walker Lake

HAWTHORNE — Advocates for Walker Lake took another step forward this week in their efforts to restore the lake as a public water resource and fresh-water fishery. The group, Mineral County, Nevada, and Walker Lake Working Group, which are co-appellants in Mineral County, et al. v. Walker River Irrigation Dist., et al., filed notice to bring their 25-years-long case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

A ruling from the Nevada Supreme Court spurred the action. The Nevada Supreme Court issued a decision Sept. 17 on a re-worded version of one of the questions certified by the Ninth Circuit on the application of the public trust doctrine to the waters and water rights of the Walker River System.

Two separate opinions were handed down, concurring in part and dissenting in part. The majority opinion held that the public trust doctrine does apply to all waters and water rights in the Walker Basin but does not allow for a “reallocation” of water rights. 

But Chief Justice Kristina Pickering, in her opinion, noted that the majority opinion didn’t address a number of other ways the Walker River decree court could exercise its continuing exclusive jurisdiction over the Walker River system to ensure that Walker Lake’s unique public trust values are maintained. 

“It’s good to have the State Supreme Court affirm that the public trust applies to Walker Lake and acknowledge the tragic harm that has been done to Walker Lake,” said Glenn Bunch, Walker Lake Working Group President and lifelong resident of Hawthorne, Nevada.  “Now we need the federal court that has controlled the system for more than 80 years to help us figure out how to fix the problem and fulfill the public trust.” 

The next step, according to Mineral County’s District Attorney Sean Rowe, is a return to federal court to use the guidance from the Nevada Supreme Court to determine how the public trust doctrine can most properly be applied to restore Walker Lake.

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