FALLON - Irrigation district officials finally have some good news for drought-weary farmers of the Lahontan Valley: The drought may be over.
After five dry years, northwestern Nevada has been downright soggy this winter. The snowpack in both the Carson and Truckee river basins is well above 150 percent of average, and, unlike the last couple years, it looks like it's going to stick around.
Early winter storms in recent years have given farmers hope, only for the snow to stop falling by February when late-winter warm spells would reduce the precious snowpack and ensure another summer of low streamflows.
Temperatures in the mountains have stayed low, and the snow has kept falling. A recent streamflow forecast from the Natural Resources and Conservation Service predicted the Carson River would flow at 145 percent of its average rate this growing season.
"There's enough water on the Carson River system that we won't have to divert (from the Truckee River) all season long," Truckee-Carson Irrigation District Engineer Dave Overvold said.
The wet weather has even made it into the Lahontan Valley, dumping snow and several inches of rain in Fallon - a rare sight for a town that averages less than 5 inches of precipitation a year.
While the Fallon-area rain is too early to nourish crops, it's still a welcome sight to farmers. The ground throughout the valley, usually so parched that the first round of flood irrigation is quickly absorbed, is now muddy. So irrigation water will go farther toward watering alfalfa and melons.
While the water storage level in Lake Lahontan is only at about 70 percent of average - 8 percent lower than last year at this time - Overvold said it's almost certain the reservoir will reach its target level this spring. At the very least, Overvold said, it looks like Newlands Project farmers will receive 100 percent of their allocated water.
Ironically, with the bright forecast for this year's water, the main worry for some irrigation officials is too much water.
Over the past four years, TCID has exceeded federal efficiency standards, losing relatively low amounts of water to seepage and spills. Each year, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation awarded the district with extra water. At this point, TCID has around 30,000 acre-feet of extra water to use in low-water years or sell off.
The fear this year is that TCID may have to discard some of its free water.
If the Lahontan Reservoir reaches its maximum allowed storage level of nearly 300,000 acre-feet and water keeps pouring in from the Carson River, TCID will have to spill water from the massive lake.
Any spill will come directly out of the district's discretionary "credit water."