Lyon lands bill would include many sites

If the county wants to get the most out of the proposed Lyon/Mineral County Lands Bill, officials need to speak up.

Kevin Kirkaby, rural director for Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., told the Lyon County Commissioners at a special meeting Wednesday that the county, school district, cities and areas needed to put together a "wish list" of projects to be funded by the new lands bill.

Kirkaby said lands bills are used by the federal government to sell off disposable public lands and use the funding in the county where the land is sold. The Bureau of Land Management keeps 85 percent of the funds, for resource protection in that county. Another 10 percent is given to the county to fund projects, anything from schools to parks to police and fire stations. The final 5 percent goes to the state's general education fund.

Other issues involved in the proposed bill, expected to be completed in draft form next spring, are a resolution of the Walker River Basin dispute, the setting aside of wilderness areas, creation of water or utility easements to bring water from Gerlach to Lyon and Storey counties, provide for tribal needs and bi-state water issues.

In the Walker River issue, $200 million from a farm bill passed by Congress is going to the University of Nevada, Reno and Desert Research Institute for the Walker Basin Restoration project. The project is studying ways to save Walker Lake and acquire water from Mason and Smith valleys to use to increase the lake's levels.

Mary Conelly, state director for Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, said it was important to include the Walker River/Lake issue in the lands bill.

She said about a year ago Reid decided to support Walker Basin legislation to restore Walker Lake. Most restoration plans involve purchasing water rights along the Walker River and diverting that water to the lake.

"If we do a Walker Lake bill, we won't come back and do the Lyon County Lands Bill," she said. "If we don't do Lyon County and Mineral County in this piece, it could be years before it's your turn again."

She said federal funds from farm bills have paid for research and water acquisition for Walker Lake, and no funds from land sales under the lands bill will be used for water acquisition for Walker Lake.

Smith Valley resident Jim Kinninger said the Walker Basin project sought to pull 50,000 acre-feet of water from Smith and Mason valleys into Walker Lake, which he said would be devastating to both agriculture and wells in Smith Valley.

"Ten thousand acres will go fallow to supply water to a dead lake, and that will compromise our domestic wells," he said.

Wilderness advocates have requested that 80,000 acres in the Bald Mountain and East Sisters of the Sweetwater Mountains be set aside for wilderness areas.

Kirkaby said wilderness areas are included because these lands bills are public lands bills and if they exclude certain stakeholders, the bill won't be passed.

"These are federal lands, public lands, and the wilderness people are stakeholders," he said.

Commission Chairman Phyllis Hunewill told the delegation representatives that it was important to allow ranchers with grazing allotments in that area to be able to continue grazing their sheep there.

"There needs to be a guarantee in the bill that they can keep grazing there," she said.

Kirkaby said a "utility corridor" is also expected to be part of a bill, which will allow water purveyors to move water from the Gerlach area to Lyon and Storey counties, if the state engineer approves the applications, which are now under consideration by the state.

Another issue brought up was the proposed National Wild Horse and Burro Center slated for Mound House, which was taken out of the 2005 version of the lands bill. Kirkaby said it was possible to include that in the county's "wish list."


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