Good rural Nevada water outlook for farms, ranches

FALLON (AP) - A string of winter storms to cap off a year that started with a wet spring has irrigation district officials optimistic they will have adequate water supplies for northern Nevada ranchers and farmers in 2011.

Thanks to mountain snowpacks estimated at double the normal level for early December, water flows are up in both the Lahontan and Carson valleys, with storage on the rise in the Lahontan reservoir as well.

"We have, what we hope to be, a full supply," said Rusty Jardine, project manager for the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

"It is looking very promising on the Carson side. We had a solid carry-over and are looking at (reaching) our target," he told the Lahontan Valley News, adding however that, "a lot can happen between now and when we irrigate."

Water levels had been expected to hover around 64,000 acre-feet of storage at Lahontan reservoir about 50 miles east of Reno. But a series of strong storms back in April combined with a big storm over Thanksgiving, and continued precipitation since increased the total to 76,900 acre-feet in early December.

An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover 1 acre, 1 foot deep, or about 325,000 gallons.

Flows also have increased dramatically in the Carson Valley.

Chief deputy water master Chad Blanchard said Carson River flow at East Fork at Gardnerville is up from 95 cubic feet per second in 2009 to 364 cfs this year. At West Fork, flows increased from 19 cfs to 110 cfs as of mid-December.

The problem for the Carson Valley is a lack of storage, as the valley has only a few, small private reservoirs, Blanchard said. The valley has to rely more on nature with strong snowpack and rain storms for its water supply, he said. What has been helping so far, though, is the consistent drizzles keeping the ground saturated, which has kept the river flows at a high level.

The wild card is the unknown impact of the La Nina weather system in the coming year, Blanchard said.

The Carson and Lahontan valleys as well as the Winnemucca area to the northeast all sit in the middle of the system in terms of latitude, with wet weather to the north and dry to the south, he said.

"We can be wet, dry or average," Blanchard said. "However, some of our biggest years have been La Nina years. It's something, because of the way we started out, I have high hopes that this is going to be a really big year."

The Humboldt District in the north-central region has been hit hard by drought in recent years, causing the Rye Patch reservoir to nearly dry up.

The reservoir fed by the Humboldt River has a capacity of up to 200,000 acre-feet of water storage but currently holds about 12,000 acre feet. That has resulted in water allotments to users at only 30 percent of the full amount over the past two years.

But Ben Hodges, secretary manager of the Pershing County Water Conservation District, said the season is looking strong with rain saturating the ground and good snow cover with snowpack estimated at 161 percent of average as of Dec. 15.

"The conditions are what is favorable," Hodges said.

Natural Resources Conservation Service spokesman Dan Greenlee said he expects the NRCS forecast in early January to be "average to above average" for the Humboldt District.


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