Dire times for water users | NevadaAppeal.com

Dire times for water users

Steve Puterski
sputerski@lahontanvalleynews.com

Out of the blue, the limited fortunes for water users in the Lahontan Valley have changed drastically.

Last week, after a discussion with the Federal Water Master in Reno and reviewing new forecasts, Truckee-Carson Irrigation District Project Manager Rusty Jardine and the district was left little choice than to alter the water season.

The new information gathered left TCID no other recourse than to possibly halt the water season in the Truckee Division as soon as April 14.

"People need to get their orders in so they can apply what they can in the time allotted," Jardine said. "It may have a bit of a dash (of orders) associated with it. That's just the way it is."

As for the Carson Division, Jardine said there is no timetable as those users will have water until Lahontan Reservoir runs dry.

Drought conditions are so severe the runoff from the Sierra Mountains has all but dried up. Even with the little snowpack available at elevations above 7,700 feet, the runoff may barely reach Lake Tahoe or the Truckee River to deliver the water downstream.

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"In essence, we have received a full contribution from the snowfall that was up there," Jardine said. "We are looking to see a reduction in that flow in as soon as a couple weeks. In the abundance of caution, we want people to be prepared for it."

He added conditions may change such as cooler temperatures and late-season storms, but the outlook is still dire.

"We are still in the midst of the driest season we've ever had," Jardine said. "It's overly optimistic to think that things would change any time soon."

Jardine reviewed data from the California/Nevada River Forecast Center along with discussions from with Chad Blanchard, the Federal Water Master in Reno, leading to the decision the water season may end much earlier than anticipated.

The result of last week's meeting came as a shock, Jardine said, and leaves users in an even more stressful situation than previously thought.

Historic low snowpack in the Sierra Mountains along with little rain has crippled the runoff into lakes and rivers throughout the region, according to Water Supply Specialist Jeff Anderson of the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Reno.

He said this year has witnessed a 6-inch drop in water content from last year.

TCID set water allocations at 20 percent for the Truckee and Carson divisions in March with a projected cutoff date in mid to late June. However, recent forecasts have shown the runoff is not reaching rivers, streams and lakes to increase downstream flows.

"One of the more stark comparisons I can see is some of our long-term snow courses (measuring sites) around the Tahoe Basin are at historic low levels," Anderson said. "We have snow courses that go back to 1910 or 1913 and three of those four are setting new record low values. This could be the worst snowpack in our area in over a century."

Lake Tahoe, which provides water storage for TCID, is below its natural rim and cannot feed the Truckee River, which TCID diverts from to provide irrigation water in Fernley and Fallon.

Anderson said the levels at Lake Tahoe have remained constant throughout March and the evaporation measures are about equal to the inflow coming into the lake. The result is the lake cannot gain elevation to pour water into the Truckee River, therefore leaving water users dry.

In addition, the minimal snowpack at higher elevations is not substantial enough to reach any lake or river as the runoff is absorbed by dry ground, Anderson explained.

He said there is snowpack above 7,700 feet, but recording sites at 7,700 and below are melted away leaving a longer path for runoff to travel to reach Lake Tahoe, if the water can even get to it.

"From the Truckee Basin to the Walker Basin, every one of them is at minimum levels," Anderson said of the NRCS' automated sites. "We are kind of in unchartered territory. There really isn't a year that compares."

The drought, meanwhile, has reached historic levels as January was the worst month on record, while March is nearing historic low marks as well.

Anderson said a recording from March 16 at the Carson River/Ft. Churchill meter was 7 percent of normal.

Jardine and Anderson said this is the worst year, even harsher than 1977. Jardine said this year is so bad there is no baseline to compare, even to 1977.

Anderson, meanwhile, said the snow levels throughout much of Lake Tahoe are at historic lows, while Mt. Rose is at its third-lowest mark on record.

"We just didn't have enough storms this year," he added. "The situation this year is more dire than it has been in the past three years. We are not seeing a response from the streams."

The last significant winter in Northern Nevada was in 2011 when snow levels reached more than 60 feet. Since then, however, the region has been crushed by the drought with each year producing less snow and rain than the year before.

It was enough for water users in the Lahontan Valley to get by until last year when users were cut off at the end of July.

With barely any precipitation in the fall and winter months, Lahontan Reservoir was unable to collect a significant amount of water to carryover for this season.

"That 2011 snowpack … we've been sort of living off that for the past three winters," Anderson said.

INformation

For more about water orders and delivers, contact TCID at 775-423-2141 or visit their website at http://www.tcid.org.

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