Carson subconservancy tackles water quality, supply
November 4, 2013
Carson City is ahead of the curve on water-quality issues now, while water shortage or flooding problems later require a regional approach, according to key officials at the Carson Water Subconservancy District.
General manager Edwin James and watershed coordinator Brenda Hunt say city government stays atop water issues and has taken a regional approach on them as well, but longer-term matters involving supply and flooding won't disappear anytime soon.
Global warming's depleting of Carson River runoff over the years, interspersed with flash floods when nature reverses course and high snowpack abruptly melts, will mean vigilance on water issues is a priority, according to the pair.
"Carson City's way ahead of the game," said James, who oversees planning and education for the river watershed from California's Alpine County.
"What's driving Carson City is not water-quantity issues," he said, speaking of the recent past and near-term future. "It's water quality."
James gave the city high marks for dealing with potential arsenic and uranium troubles, naturally occurring threats to quality, by using interties to bring in water from neighboring Lyon and Douglas counties so supply purity isn't threatened. He also credited city government with keeping up vigilance on nitrate problems.
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Yet supply, which is his bailiwick, along with flood control and preparedness, which is Hunt's, keep them working on ways to deal with the flood/drought pendulum swing for all jurisdictions in the region affected by the watershed's split personality.
"Brenda's covering the flood," James said he tells officials during presentations. "I'm covering the drought."
Something in Douglas County, James said, can affect Lyon County and Carson City.
Hunt called it critical to look at the problem in almost the same way people look at good health care: preventive actions beat belated cures. In 1997, for example, flooding from Truckee River runoff was devastating for Reno due to urban encroachment in the floorplain, while the more agriculture-oriented and less-developed areas along the Carson River, despite extensive flooding, endured far lower financial losses.
The long-term supply question is equally important to James.
"We identify potential shortage problems," he said. He said the goal is to meet supply needs in a cost-effective manner.
James termed it unlikely either the east or west fork of the Carson River would be dammed for water impoundment, but siphon and storage methods coupled with groundwater recharge can help regarding supply issues. He said a $75,000 river basin study grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to identify river problems and pave the way for a larger, later grant should help pinpoint the best storage places and methods.
Hunt recently took her regional floodplain-management plan before Carson City's Board of Supervisors to obtain for it the city's blessing, which it got. James will bring his work to the same body either in late November or December to keep local officials informed. But despite his regard for planning and education, James doesn't give up on alternative prospects for enhancing supply.
In the latest subconservancy district newsletter, which is called "The Flow," he recapped two years of drought but said it would be a year before he goes out on a limb regarding water year 2014.
"Until then," he wrote, "I will be working on my rain/snow dance."