Dry year leaves waterfowl, hunters looking for water

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RENO, Nev. - Northern Nevada's first dry year after five wet ones has migrating waterfowl searching for a wet place to land and hunters looking for enough water to launch a boat.

''Several areas that had water in recent years may be dry, at least for the first part of the season,'' Nevada Division of Wildlife Waterfowl Biologist Norm Saake said. ''The past few years we've had made us all a little spoiled.''

But, he added, a return to more normal conditions isn't all bad.

''We've had an overabundance of muskrats at Carson Lake. This is a mixed blessing if we knock some of those back,'' he said.

And while less water could mean fewer ducks when the 106-day hunting season opens Oct. 7, the areas that do have good water should attract higher concentrations of birds, Saake said.

The combination of a below-average winter snowpack, a virtually rainless spring and an unusually hot and windy summer has dried up northern Nevada sinks where lakes had sprung up the past few seasons.

Franklin Lake north of Ruby Lake in the eastern part of the state is gone and only about half of Ruby Lake has water.

Mason Valley has some wetlands habitat but Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge east of Fallon is down to Goose Lake and Swan Lake Check and even there, Saake said water levels are low and boat access is difficult at best.

''We had a couple of units there we thought might have some water. We can't even hang on to those,'' he said.

Because of the skimpy snowmelt this year, Saake said Fallon-area farmers have been miserly in their use of irrigation water, so drainage into the Stillwater area and the Carson Sink to the south have been sharply reduced. Even in that, he finds a plus.

With less runoff containing agricultural residue, ''we're getting better quality water - just not as much of it,'' he said.

A lack of decent lakes and ponds along the Pacific Flyway also has helped reduce avian botulism this year, he said.

In the past, the disease has spread quickly among birds when they bunched together along shorelines.

''They'll stay long enough to build up a little fat reserve, then they'll be gone. The rollover is going to be pretty fast this year,'' he said.

And that will add to the challenge when the season opens next week.

''Hunters should plan to scout out their favorite spots just before the opening so they don't find themselves walking into a dry marsh,'' Saake said.


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