Mark Twain once said, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.”
Local Lincoln County cattle operators say there is a lot of fight over water between themselves and sheep grazing operations run by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA).
At the Jan. 2 county commission meeting, County Planning and Building Director Cory Lytle commented that he thought this was all a planned effort by SNWA to control this part of the state in order to run other operators out of business, to sell the water rights to SNWA, who in turn will take the water in the rural areas for their long planned 300-mile pipeline to the Las Vegas Valley.
Lincoln County cattle operators are calling foul because SNWA is not making any effort at all to abide by agreements made with local ranchers going back to 1963.
Commissioners again approved sending a letter to the Ely District office Bureau of Land Management in support of ranchers and grazing operators in rural Nevada informing them that the SNWA grass their sheep on the east side of the valley, in violation of a number of rangeland agreements dating back to 1937.
Connie Simkins, secretary of the N4 Grazing Board, said the letter, “asks the BLM to take the information in this letter to resolve the concerns of the ongoing trespass situations created by SNWA sheep grazing much to the south of the rangeland agreement designated Grey Hills location. It tells them we are going to remain engaged.”
Grazing operator Kenna Gloeckner, whose family has grazed in that area for three generations, appeared before the board to show on maps how SNWA has ignored the agreement rules since 2006. “They now contend they can run their sheep wherever they want, regardless of where imaginary boundaries might be, because the 1992 BLM use permit did not say where they could not go.”
“But,” she continued, “we have to stay over on our side except for specified times and areas, or SNWA, with all their money for lawyers, will drag us into court.”
For many years the state water engineer has given grazing operators a three-mile band of forage around specific water wells, but Gloeckner complains the SNWA sheep don’t abide by the three-mile limits and graze on whatever forage they want to, regardless of who holds the rights to it.
Commissioner Varlin Higbee reported he has met the SNWA officials “a couple of times and they just don’t care. They ignore everyone and have changed whatever they wanted, when they wanted.”
Higbee cited historical records that showed how before the Congressional Taylor Grazing Act of 1934 ended free grazing, southern Utah sheep operators pushed thousands of head into southern Nevada. He said, “A band of sheep is normally considered one thousands of mother ewes and lambs. But SNWA defines a ‘band’ as being 2,000, and they have three bands in the Grey Hills sheep allotments. The sheep will completely strip the land of forage, so that when local ranchers can move their cattle back into those areas, there is nothing left.”
He believes what has to be recognized and accepted by SNWA is that water/forage rights are not privileges, but a right protected by federal law.
He also believes the county, not the BLM, ought to be the ones involved in the conflict resolution discussions. “Fix it from the ground up, not the top down. Let’s talk to those in White Pine County that are having the same problems.”
Commission chair Paul Donohue suggested the county create an ordinance to give the sheriff authority to enforce existing federal laws, “something that has more teeth.”
Commissioner Kevin Phillips said he thought that might be something that would “get their attention.”
The matter will likely be further discussed at the upcoming N4 Grazing Board meeting Feb. 2 at the Panaca Fire Hall.