Farmers upset over the reduced flows in Fernley canal

FERNLEY (AP) - Farmers and ranchers are expressing concern over reduced flows spurred by a breach of a century-old irrigation canal that flooded hundreds of homes in January in Fernley, about 30 miles east of Reno.

Water for ranches and farms will be at least 10 percent less this growing season, said officials of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

"Basically, less water means fewer crops, less production and less money ... We are looking at some unpleasant financial circumstances," Fallon farmer Mario G. Peraldo told a Reno newspaper.

The irrigation district, which operates the 31-mile Truckee Canal that takes water from the Truckee River near Fernley to farms and ranches around Fallon, was allowed to reopen the canal on March 21. It had been dry since Jan. 5, when the breach affected about 600 homes in Fernley.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the canal, authorized the district to initially send water through the canal at 150 cubic feet per second, 20 percent of the canal's operating capacity of 750 cfs.

The bureau, which will allow the flow to increase to 250 cfs starting Saturday, is keeping water at low levels because both the agency and Fernley residents fear another breach.

The irrigation district has notified water rights holders that water deliveries could drop even lower than 10 percent depending on this season's runoff from the Sierra snowpack.

A 10 percent drop in water availability can translate into a 20 percent loss of income because fields left fallow one year can affect what's planted the next season, farmers said.

They said they can cope with one bad year, but they're nervous because the canal won't be up to its usual capacity for years to come until costly repairs are made and there's no guarantee of a better snowpack in the Sierra.

"If we stay at a 10 percent reduction, I'll make it through this year pretty well," said Rick Lattin, owner of Lattin Farms in Fallon. "The big concern is not this year, but next year."

Peraldo said the future water uncertainty makes planning difficult.

He said he understands the safety concerns of Fernley residents, but thinks the reclamation bureau is "going overboard" on restrictions on the canal's flow.

Hay is the Fallon area's main crop, followed by grains, vegetables and melons.

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Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com

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