Farmers' water offer for hunting at refuge rejected

FALLON, Nev. - Federal officials have nixed an offer by Fallon farmers aimed at restoring this year's waterfowl hunting season at the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge near here.

Farmers wanted to donate their share of water in Donner Lake near Truckee, Calif., to the refuge for hunting, but Bureau of Reclamation officials said the gift probably would violate federal policy.

''I'm really uncomfortable with the politics of this,'' bureau area manager Elizabeth Ann Rieke told the Reno Gazette-Journal. ''It would set a very significant precedent.''

Two weeks ago, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service canceled this year's waterfowl hunting season at the refuge for the first time ever because of a lack of water.

With more than 80 percent of the wetlands dry 70 miles east of Reno, refuge officials reached the decision barely a week before the Oct. 7 opening of duck season.

Under farmers' plan, their Donner Lake water would have flowed down the Truckee River and been diverted by canal into the Carson River Basin, where Fallon and the refuge are located.

But Rieke said the plan would violate the bureau's policy of minimizing diversions from the Truckee basin into the Carson basin.

According to federal court decisions, farmers are supposed to rely primarily on the Carson and use Truckee water as a backup only in years when the Carson can't satisfy everyone's water rights.

This year, the Carson provided enough water to satisfy all users' water rights, Rieke said.

She said she also was concerned the plan would spark a legal fight with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, whose reservation is located at the Truckee's mouth 30 miles northeast of Reno.

But Newlands Project Manager Lyman McConnell, whose agency serves the farmers, said tribal members shouldn't be concerned about how Donner Lake water is used because it doesn't belong to them.

''It's privately owned water stored in Donner Lake,'' he said. ''I realize they want all the water for Pyramid Lake, but it's like saying all the water in the Truckee system belongs to them.''


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