This year's dry winter could mean farmers and ranchers downstream on the Carson River will have to turn to their wells for water.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack is only half of what it usually is this time of year, and that means trouble for the Carson River.
The Truckee River can be recharged with stored water, but Ed James of the Carson Water Subconservancy District said the Carson River has no backup.
"We are at the mercy of Mother Nature on the Carson," he said. "Around here, we could have a flood in January and a drought in July. This year, it looks like it's going to be very dry."
James said the flow from the east fork, coming into Douglas County, is actually at normal, about 376 cubic feet per second, but the measurement at the Carson City gage is at 180 cfs. The normal flow at Carson City is 400 cfs for this time of year, he said.
"Because it's so dry, farmers in Carson Valley are diverting water," he said.
He said that farmers and ranchers with junior water rights won't get their allotment of water, and will have to rely on supplemental wells.
"I would expect that by early June there will be people not able to divert," he said. "It's going to be a very dry year, and you're going to see more groundwater pumping because of it."
James said water rights are assigned to property by date. Those with senior rights, or those who have water rights from 1850 to 1880, will be able to divert from the Carson River, but those with rights from 1880 on may not.
James said that even though some ranchers and farmers can't divert, they still may be able to use water from a neighboring farm with senior rights.
"The system is structured in such a way that a farmer upstream will divert water out, it will run across a field and come into someone else's field,"
He said Lake Lahontan would probably not be affected because Truckee River water has been diverted to fill it, so ranchers and farmers in Churchill County will have water.
Well users who conserve water will help the groundwater table, which James said was still high.
"We had a very good wet year last year, so the water tables are up," he said.
Mike Workman, Lyon Utilities director, said the county's 19 monitoring wells show water levels at above average.
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at email@example.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.
Based on Mountain Data from NRCS SNOTEL Sites
As of Tuesday
Sierra Nevada snowpack
Depth - 59 percent of normal
Water content - 39 percent of normal
Depth - 68 percent
Water content - 38 percent
Depth - 66 percent
Water content - 50 percent
Depth - 58 percent
Water content - 47 percent