The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Thursday that it has appointed a deputy state engineer to serve as Nevada’s interim top water regulator. As the state’s top water regulator, the state engineer is responsible for allocating water rights, settling disputes over claims and signing off on housing developments that need water.
Tim Wilson, a deputy administrator who has worked for the Nevada Division of Water Resources since 1995, will take over as the state’s top water engineer. Wilson will assume the position as the department pursues a package of water bills in the legislative session aimed at updating Nevada water law. The bills are expected to be controversial among some water users.
Jason King, the current state engineer, is retiring tomorrow. During King’s tenure, he prioritized managing surface water and groundwater as a joint-resource, rather than considering the two as separate. Like past state engineers, he also had to rule several times on the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s proposal to pump millions of gallons of rural groundwater about 250 miles from Eastern Nevada to Las Vegas, often drawing the ire of the project’s proponents.
“We are in a new era of water management in Nevada, and my administration will continue to tackle our most challenging water issues head-on in partnership with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the next state engineer,” Gov. Steve Sisolak said in a statement. “I am confident Tim Wilson will continue the direction and progress established under Jason’s leadership on the many critical water issues and policies that affect all Nevadans.”
The press release did not elaborate on whether the department was searching for a longer-term state engineer. State statute requires Nevada’s top water regulator to be a certified engineer. Some water users have floated the idea of changing that requirement in the Legislature, given that the position revolves around hydrology and the law. Others have argued that such a move would further politicize a quasi-judicial position that is one of the most scrutinized in the state.
Several of King’s decisions spawned court cases from Nye County to White Pine County. But King was widely respected by several water users, even those who disagreed with him.
In an interview after King’s most recent ruling on the water authority’s proposal, former Gov. Brian Sandoval praised him and noted that his departure would be a loss for the state.
“[He] is the most knowledgeable water expert in the state,” Sandoval told The Nevada Independent after the decision. “There is a reason he is in this position. He’s been there for decades, literally decades. He knows water better than anybody. And that is a quasi-judicial decision where he hears all the evidence and he makes decisions so he has my full-faith trust and support.”
“I am really sad to see him go,” Sandoval said of King’s departure. “But we always have the next person up and there will be someone to step in. But he has done a profoundly great job.”