By Ken Ritter
Associated Press

Nevada’s top water official declared a halt on Friday to new drilling permits in a fast-growing community north of Reno, citing fears the only water source for thousands of homes could run dry.

State Engineer Tim Wilson issued a rare formal order placing a temporary hold on reviewing and approving new subdivision maps and other proposals that would tap groundwater in the Cold Spring area.

“Nevada is in a new era of water management,” Wilson’s office said in a Friday statement. It called the state “both the driest and fastest-growing” in the nation, pointed to climate change, and promised “forward-looking management of our limited water resources.”

In Cold Spring, “Given the uncertainties surrounding the basin’s annual water capacity … constructing new housing developments could potentially impair the water supply for existing homes where thousands of families currently live,” the Division of Water Resources statement said.

“Our goal is to take a proactive approach to water management … protect current property rights and family homes, and foster a sustainable water future in the Cold Spring community.”

The order was just the second of its kind issued by the state, department spokeswoman Samantha Thompson said. It came a week after Wilson was promoted from acting to permanent state engineer and water resources chief. Wilson has been with the division since 1995, and was a top deputy to former State Engineer Jason King.

Last May, Wilson issued an order declaring a moratorium on new water development in a remote desert area northeast of Las Vegas designated as the Lower White River Flow System until he reviews stakeholder claims.

The state engineer regulates and appropriates surface and groundwater in Nevada, and oversees water well drilling, dam safety, resource planning and flood plain management.

The Cold Spring Valley has grown from about 500 homes and 2,000 people in 1979 to more than 3,000 homes and more than 8,500 people today, the Reno Gazette Journal reported.

The moratorium makes exceptions for developments in the area supplied by water pipeline, including the proposed 5,000-unit Stonegate development, Thompson said.

Pumping to support existing Cold Spring homes is not affected by the order. It sets a March 31 deadline for affected parties to comment.