The Truckee Carson Irrigation District and other government agencies monitoring water levels and flood potential in western Nevada are reassessing river flows in the Carson River and storage in the Lahontan Reservoir.
“The efforts you’re seeing with the reduction of flows is in response to a better picture upstream,” said TCID General Manager Rusty Jardine.
Based on a Tuesday meeting between TCID and Bureau of Reclamation officials, outflows from the reservoir will be lowered because of a slower than expected runoff from the Sierra water basins. Jardine said the weather for the past two weeks has given some reprieve to water watchers. The trend shows the area heating up for three to four days and then cooling down for the same amount of time.
“But we’ll see the high flows remaining in the Carson River,” Jardine said.
Although the National Weather Service said Thursday the Carson River peaked in early May, residents will still see cold, swift-moving water throughout the corridor from Douglas County to east of Fallon. TCID said measured flows at Fort Churchill will be at the 3,500 cubic feet per second range possibly through next week. Jardine said flows would begin to slow down a little. As of Thursday, the Carson River at Fort Churchill was recorded at 3,790 cfs.
The change inflows, though, will allow TCID to begin filling the reservoir, which is at 218,400 acre-feet and below its natural capacity of 295,500 acre-feet. An acre-foot of water consists of 386,000 gallons.
“We’re allowing the lake to fill, but we have emergency provisions,” Jardine said, in case the weather heats up for an extended period of time or a rare, heavy rainstorm pelts the Sierra causing the snowpack to melt faster.
Hydrologist Tim Bardsley of the NWS said the cooler weather has helped Northern Nevada’s three major rivers — the Walker, Carson and Truckee. He said levels have come down, but he said there is concern the Walker River running through the Mason Valley may stay above flood stage for another week or two.
“The Carson is looking pretty good,” he said. “We’re confident we passed our peak on May 5-6.”
Bardsley also reiterated Jardine’s assessment of the current situation in the Sierra, especially with the three major basins and the slow water runoff. Now, he said, both the Truckee and Carson rivers have switched into a supply mode to fill their reservoirs.
“It’s amazing,” he said of the current situation, “of all the work done in advance to mitigate issues.”
Changes are occurring on almost a daily basis.
Jardine said construction crews dammed the emergency weir and spillway west of Fallon to prevent water from flowing into the desert from the V-line canal. The weir, which was finished in late March, allowed water to flow south to Sheckler Reservoir and the Navy’s training range, Bravo 16.
“We’re placing sandbags there, and if we need to reopen the weir, we’ll lift the bags out and reintroduce water into the desert,” he added.
From the training range, the water followed natural gulleys and crossed under U.S. Highway 95 to Carson Lake. Government agencies and volunteers from the Farmer Brigade constructed a 60-foot wide, 15-foot deep channel to carry the water to the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge and then out to the Carson Sink.
With reduced flows, Jardine said TCID and the Nevada Department of Transportation will make arrangements to re-extend Bafford Lane, which is a state highway, to the bridge. In mid-April, NDOT, Churchill County and TCID cut a 30-foot wide section from the road to allow the Carson River to flow around the west end of the bridge and to prevent any backup due to debris.
“We want to see this filled,” Jardine said. “The farmers have had it rough, some who have to travel seven miles to get to the other side of the river. They’re inconvenienced out there.”
NDOT, though, wants to see reduced flows in the river at Bafford Lane.
“To continue to allow for the increased flow of floodwaters, we will not rebuild Bafford Lane until after river flows have substantially fallen,” said NDOT spokeswoman Meg Ragonese. “No concrete schedule has been established yet, but we will be developing plans to rebuild Bafford Lane over the coming months as well as continuing our partnership with the Truckee Carson Irrigation District, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Churchill County and the City of Fallon to lessen flood impacts.”
Overall, Jardine and members of the county’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and other agencies are pleased with the mitigation efforts that first began earlier this year.
“Everything we set out to do has paid great dividends,” Jardine said. “We have achieved — so far — everything we set out to do.”
That trend may continue throughout the summer. Bardsley said the high-elevation snow above 9,500 feet is being “stubborn to melt,” but he said it will take many sunny and warmer days to get it to melt.
Jardine, though, said residents and businesses along the Carson River corridor cannot take anything for granted and must be vigilant in knowing what the river is doing and what the forecasters are predicting.