On July 19, 2014, a Mason Valley News opinion piece discussed the low flows in the Carson River compared to the flows in the Truckee River.
The opinion piece opined the low flows in the Carson River are due to the lack of storage on the Carson River. The writer also criticized the Carson Water Subconservancy District (CWSD) for not doing more to enhance water supply and building storage on the Carson River.
The major issue with storage on the Carson River is there’s no excess water available. Flows in the Carson River depend on the amount of annual snowfall. All the water in the Carson River has been appropriated, meaning all water is legally allocated for distribution to specific users under the Federal Court’s Alpine Decree and Nevada’s water law. Even flood waters are allocated. Given all existing sources of water are spoken for, building a storage reservoir would require obtaining water rights from current owners. In the 1950s, the Bureau of Reclamation proposed building a large reservoir on the East Fork of the Carson River. The concept was that any water stored upstream of Lahontan Reservoir on the Carson River would be offset by diverting more water from the Truckee River. In the 1980s, the federal government recognized constructing such a dam on the Carson River was not economically viable. It was also recognized diverting more water from the Truckee River to the Carson River would have a negative impact on water supplies to Pyramid Lake and urban demands along the Truckee River system.
CWSD is evaluating storage options, but on a much smaller scale. Storage evaluation must consider location, which water rights are going to be stored, environmental concerns, and the economics of the project. It’s important to recognize that having storage does not increase the amount of water available. Storage merely provides the opportunity to regulate and redistribute releases; it does not increase supply.
As part of our efforts to enhance water supply in the watershed, CWSD has been working with the communities to meet their water demands in the most economical manner. CWSD has provided technical support and funding to water purveyors to link the water systems together and enhance water supplies. An example of this is the pipeline intertie between Carson City and Lyon County to Mound House. More recently, the North Valley pipeline in Douglas County provides high quality water from the Town of Minden to North Douglas County, Indian Hills GID, and Carson City areas. CWSD is also working with local conservation districts and many others to restore the health of the Carson River Watershed.
Meeting the future water demands on the Carson River involves balancing the resources between agricultural, environmental, and municipal users. Planning for new storage includes learning to live with the water supplied by Mother Nature. Even with additional storage, history affirms that in dry years the Carson River will go dry. Carson Water Subconservancy District recognizes the importance of balancing the needs of all water users and is working with the communities so we can better handle times when we have too little or too much water.
If you are interested in learning more about the watershed, please check out our website at www.cwsd.org.
Edwin James is general manager of the Carson Water Subconservancy District.