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Nevada Water Access and Water Rights (19-NV-a)

Water law in Nevada is based on two principles: prior appropriation and beneficial use. Prior appropriation is based on the principle “first in time, first in right.” Earlier appropriators have priority to the use of water over later appropriators. However, all of the appropriated water must be put to beneficial use. In Nevada, beneficial use is “the basis, the measure, and the limit of the right to the use of water.” See NRS 533.035. Use of water for the industrial purpose of generating energy to be exported out of Nevada is considered a beneficial use in accordance with NRS 533.372.

All sources of water belong to the public in Nevada. See NRS 533.025. Water rights are rights to use the water in a specific manner and place, and with a specific point of diversion. See the Nevada Lawyer's Overview of Water Law in Nevada. To use the water, a permit must be obtained from the State Engineer (the head of the Nevada Division of Water Resources), unless the user has a vested water right.

Vested water rights are those formed by water use prior to the enactment of the applicable water laws governing appropriation of water rights (1905 for surface water, 1913 for artesian water wells or water in definable underground aquifers, and 1939 for all groundwater). See the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Nevada Water Law 101 website. Vested water rights should be adjudicated in accordance with NRS 533.090 et seq. before they are purchased.

If the water source is not fully appropriated, the developer must obtain a permit to appropriate the water. If the water source is fully appropriated, the developer must obtain a water right through purchase or lease, and a permit to change the manner of use, place of use, or place of diversion. See NRS 533.325. As a practical matter, most water in the state of Nevada has already been appropriated.

Both surface water and groundwater may be appropriated. NRS 533 et seq. governs the appropriation of surface water and the permit application process, while NRS 534 et seq. governs undergroundwater and wells.


Under NRS 534A.040 only consumptive uses of water brought to the surface outside of a geothermal well are subject to the appropriation procedures of NRS 533 and 534 unless:

  • The water that is removed from an aquifer or geothermal reservoir to develop and obtain geothermal resources is returned to or reinjected into the same aquifer or reservoir; or
  • Reasonable loss of water results from geothermal well testing or temporary failure of all or part of a system that removes water from an aquifer or geothermal reservoir, transfers the heat from the water and reinjects that water into the same aquifer or reservoir.

Water Access and Water Rights Process

19-NV-a.1 - Calculate Project Need

The developer will need to contact a water engineer/consultant to calculate the amount of water the project (e.g. exploration, drilling, construction, etc.) will require.

19-NV-a.2 – Locate Appropriate Source of Water Supply

The developer with the assistance of the water engineer/consultant must locate an appropriate source of water supply based on the project’s water needs.

19-NV-a.3 – Is the Supply from a Short-Term Lease Supplier with an Already Decreed Water Right

If the developer will obtain water through a short-term lease supplier with an already decreed water right, the developer may be able to continue with the project without obtaining a new water right if the water supply is already decreed and/or permitted for the necessary use(s).

19-NV-a.4 to 19-NV-a.5 – Is the Supply Decreed and/or Permitted for the Necessary Use

If the developer will receive water from a short-term lease, in which the supply is already decreed and/or permitted for the necessary use (i.e. likely industrial use), the developer will not need a permit or new decree and may continue with the project. If the water supply is not decreed and/or permitted for the necessary use, the water right owner must change the use or the developer must locate a different source of water.

19-NV-a.6 – Is the Supply from a Municipal Supply or Other Governmental Supplier

If the developer will obtain the water from a local municipality, the developer may purchase water from the municipality through a tap fee, and in most cases, continue with the project without obtaining a water right or well permit. Additionally, the developer may obtain water from a water district, water and sanitation district, metropolitan district, or a water conservancy district.

19-NV-a.7 to 19-NV-a.8 – Is the Water Source Fully Appropriated?; Initiate Appropriation and Change of Use Process

If the water source is not fully appropriated, the developer may file an application to appropriate the water with the State Engineer. As a practical matter, most water in Nevada has already been appropriated.

19-NV-a.9 to 19-NV-a.15 – Will the Water Right be Purchased?; Negotiate Purchase of Water Right; Record Deed in County Recorder Offices; Report of Conveyance

Because most of Nevada’s surface and groundwater has already been appropriated, water rights will probably have to be purchased or leased. Although water belongs to the public in Nevada, water rights are considered property. Water rights are generally deemed to remain appurtenant to the place of use. However, the water right may be severed from the place of use and become appurtenant to a new place of use without losing priority. See NRS 533.040.

Water rights that are purchased must be conveyed by deed and recorded in the office of the county recorder of each county in which the water is applied to beneficial use and in each county in which the water is diverted from its natural sources. See NRS 533.382.

Developers who purchase or lease a water right must also file a Report of Conveyance with the State Engineer. The Report of Conveyance must include the appropriate fee, a copy of the deed, and any other information requested by the State Engineer. See NRS 533.384.

Upon receipt of the Report of Conveyance, the State Engineer confirms that it contains the appropriate fee, that there is no defect in the chain of title that can be determined from the conveyance documents or other information on file, and that the rate of diversion and amount of water conveyed is ascertainable. See NRS 533.386(1). If the State Engineer confirms the report, a confirmation notice is sent to the developer. Otherwise, the report is rejected and returned to the developer along with an explanation of the deficiency. The State Engineer will not confirm the report until the defects are cured. See NRS 533.386(3). The State Engineer will not consider an application from a person who receives a conveyance of a water right unless the report of conveyance is confirmed. See NRS 533.386(5).

19-NV-a.16 – Negotiate Lease of Water Right

Developers may lease water rights instead of purchasing them. When leasing a water right, the developer should first consider leases that will not require a change of use. If such a lease is not available, the lessor (i.e., water right owner) may have to file an application for a change of use with the State Engineer.

19-NV-a.17 to 19-NV-a.19 – Will the Manner of Use, Place of Use or Place of Diversion Have to be Changed?

Whether a water right is leased or purchased, if the manner of use, place of use or place of diversion will be changed, the party selling or leasing the water right must file a change of use application with the State Engineer. See NRS 533.345. If the permitted use will not change, no application is necessary and the developer may continue with the project.

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Contact Information

Edit Nevada Division of Water Resources
PE, Water Rights 775.684.2815 keitenmiller@waterabbazabbanvabbazabbagov Visit Website