LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — In a case closely followed by policymakers, the Nevada Supreme Court has backed a groundwater management plan that allows a state agency to reduce the pumping of water from a Eureka County aquifer.

The court’s 4-3 ruling on June 16 means the State Engineer’s Office can restrict pumping of aquifers in critical management areas, reversing a 2019 decision by District Court Judge Gary Fairman that struck down the management plan, calling it “contrary” to Nevada’s water laws.

The Supreme Court decision specifically addresses overpumping of the Diamond Valley aquifer in Eureka County. But Justice James Hardesty, writing the majority opinion, said the ruling will have a far-reaching effect.

“We recognize that our opinion will significantly affect water management in Nevada,” he wrote. “We are of the belief, however, that — given the arid nature of the State — it is particularly important that we effectuate the plain meaning of a statute that encourages the sustainable use of water.”

As for Diamond Valley, for years more water has been taken from the aquifer each year than can be naturally replenished. In 2018, water managers in the county voted on the plan to gradually reduce pumping. That plan, which means 35 years of more restricted usage, and the subsequent Supreme Court decision, alter decades of state water law.

Hardesty also wrote that “we hold that the Legislature unambiguously gave the State Engineer discretion to approve a GMP [groundwater management plan] that departs from the doctrine of prior appropriation and other statutes in Nevada’s statutory water scheme. Thus, we conclude that the State Engineer’s decision to approve the GMP was not erroneous. … we reverse the district court’s order granting respondents consolidated petitions for judicial review and reinstate the State Engineer’s decision.”