Preparing for the future has its speed bumps.
In the case of the city of Fernley’s water supply, city officials would like to forge a smooth transition between its surface and ground water rights.
Shari Whalen, city of Fernley engineer, gave a presentation to the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District at the board’s latest monthly meeting to update the city’s long-term plans for its water supply.
The presentation centered around the city’s concerns and strategies for ground and surface water.
Whalen said the city goes through the change application process to change agriculture water rights to municipal rights. Currently, Fernley has a combined 20,000 acre-feet — 10,000 each — of ground and surface water rights.
“Right now, we are planning to use that water for the future,” Whalen said. “Even though we don’t need all that water today, we are trying to be a responsible municipality and figure out what our community will look like 20-25 years in the future with that water.”
Another concern was the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Truckee Canal study, which analyzed the safety of flows through the canal and listed recommendations to enhance safety.
One issue about the canal and its safety has been the possibility of lining the waterway with cement. Whalen, though, said it would cost more to line the canal, but more importantly for Fernley, it would significantly decrease recharge in the Reach.
“If TCID elects to line the canal, it would cut our bucket list in half,” Whalen said.
She said her presentation to the TCID board was to inform them of the negative impacts for Fernley’s ground water. It would impact domestic wells and the city’s municipal supply.
Whalen and City Manager Chris Good added the water supply in Fernley is healthy and stable.
Another issue for Fernley, though, centers on its water treatment facility. Due to arsenic levels, the federal government mandated the city build a treatment center.
Due to Fernley’s rapid growth about five to eight years ago, Whalen said the plan was to deliver for municipal use. The plant, though, is designed to treat ground water, and if the plan were to go into effect, a $20 million upgrade was need to allow the facility to also treat surface water.
“We have to treat ground water and surface water differently,” Whalen said. “Ground water has arsenic in it … and surface water has bacteria. You can’t put them all in one pot to treat them the same way and meet federal drinking water standards.”
Good, meanwhile, said the treatment plant currently only treats ground water and meets and exceeds federal standards.
Since the recession, it gave Fernley time to figure out another plan of attack to treat surface water. Another plan, though, is to create a pond for surface water and allow it to percolate into the ground supply.
This way would be cheaper for Fernley because the surface water would be allowed to be treated as ground water. Whalen, though, said this idea does not alleviate the issue of lining the canal.
“That does not solve the problem of lining the canal,” she added. “It still takes away the water from the bottom of the canal that we use today.”
According to Whalen and a Desert Research Institute model, Fernley’s recharge is about even. The city measured the water rolling across the surface of a ditch and found if the canal is at 350 cubic-feet per second, about 10,000 acre-feet is lost through the bottom of the canal through the Fernley reach.
“We’re not sucking out more water out of the ground than what is going into the ground water every year,” Whalen said.
When it comes to the surface water issues, Fernley has engineering solutions, she added. As for the ground water, no engineering solutions have been discovered yet, and is why Fernley is seeking partnerships for their ground water supply.
“We want people that are going to advocate, understand what our concerns are and be our partner in making sure we have a secure ground water supply,” Whalen said. “We need to have a partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation, TCID our friends in Churchill County and even the Pyramid Lake tribe. There’s a community water supply at stake.”