LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Southern Nevada is losing water fast. Lake Mead reached a new record low Thursday when it hit 1057 feet, and it is expected to drop seven more feet by the end of May.

Water is a big issue for a planned golf community about an hour north of Las Vegas. Farmers, Native American tribes, and environmentalists have opposed the project, saying it would suck all the water out of the Nevada desert.  

As the 8 News Now I-Team has learned, a court ruling could start the construction back up.

Coyote Springs, a master-planned community about an hour northeast of Las Vegas, was the brainchild of developer and lobbyist Harvey Whittemore. The plan for Coyote Springs was to be much like a mini-city. It plans to spread over 65 miles into Lincoln and Clark counties. The development also calls for the construction of 160,000 homes, 10 golf courses, and several casinos.  

The project to date includes a built Jack Nicklaus golf course, but still, no sign of homes because they need water. The I-Team interviewed the developer Mike Hillerby in 2009 and asked about the plan. “People in Las Vegas are being asked to conserve water, cut back, get rid of your lawn, and you guys are building a golf course,” asked George Knapp.

Mike Hillerby defended the project by saying they own the land and water that comes with it. 

“Anytime you build a golf course, there’s going to be greens and there is going to be water involved. That is simply a matter of fact. The water is the water that we own. It’s been permitted here on-site; that’s part of the development that we think is an appropriate use,” said Mike Hillerby.

There are two ways the development can get water: they can tap into the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposed pipeline from northeastern Nevada to Las Vegas or pump it themselves from the ground.

Federal authorities halted the pipeline plan two years ago amid reports that it would kill crops and the Moapa Dace, an endangered fish. 

Last year Nevada’s water chief, known as the State Engineer, issued an order saying that five basins where Coyote Springs planned to pump the water from where all were connected and declared them to be one new “super basin,” saying there were more water rights on paper for that “super basin” than there was water in it.

“We had an aquifer test of just a fraction of how much water can be developed out here, and what we saw were impacts to streams and potential streamflow,” said Jason King, the state engineer.

A district court judge ruled that the state engineer overstepped his authority to make it one “super basin.” He ordered they be known as five separate water basins instead of one large one.

After Whittemore went to federal prison in 2014 for bundling money for Nevada Senator Harry Reid, his former partners Albert and Thomas Seeno took over the project. 

Today they tell 8 News Now’s I-Team the development is “full speed ahead” in the project and plan to get building permits in early 2023 for 160,000 houses to be built, of which 50,000 are expected to be built in Clark County land. 

The development released this statement:

Coyote Springs Investment is pleased with Judge Yeager’s well-reasoned findings of fact, conclusions of law, and order granting its petition for judicial review. Coyote Springs has been ready to develop and build homes for over a decade, owning over 4100 acre-feet-annually of water in the Coyote Springs hydrographic basin for its development. Coyote Springs built and has ready to operate a groundwater treatment plant, wastewater treatment plant, electric substation, 2.25 mile storm retention basin, along with other key infrastructure, all in addition to an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course that it built which has been open to the public since May 2008. Coyote Springs is moving full speed ahead, dusting off maps and plans for submittal and aiming toward its first building permits in early 2023. And with land in short supply in the Las Vegas valley, Coyote Springs is ready to provide the housing Clark County needs with its 49,600 entitled-to-be-built units in Coyote Springs – Clark County (in addition to the 110,000 entitled residential units in Coyote Springs – Lincoln County).

Coyote Springs Development LLC.

The Nevada State Engineer says the state is considering whether to appeal the decision.