Water levels rising at refuge

A duck enjoys the water of Stillwater Point Reservoir on the first day of spring.

A duck enjoys the water of Stillwater Point Reservoir on the first day of spring.

In her four years as manager of the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, Nancy Hoffman has seen lean times during the drought at the wetlands northeast of Fallon.

The flow of water to the world famous wildlife refuge, though, has quenched the thirst of the numerous lakes and ponds that dot the 80,000-acre complex. Hoffman said water has meandered into the refuge from three canals.

“We’re trying to get the north all filled up,” she said of the various ponds and lakes. “The majority of water is flowing to the north.”

Rusty Jardine, district manager of the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, said he has expected a slow rate of flow into the refuge at about 200 cubic feet per second.

Hoffman said the central part is slowly filling with water. Other areas in the southern section of the refuge such as Stillwater Point Reservoir, said Hoffman, have sprung to life. The additional water couldn’t come at a better time. Hoffman said migration season has begun, especially for the shorebirds.

“Some areas are as deep as 4 feet, and some areas are still shallow. Mother Nature is warming up,” she said. “This is great for all wildlife. Birds will also disperse because of all the water locations.”

Although the various bodies of water are filling up, she also worries about a heavy runoff that could provide more water than the refuge can handle; however, both she and officials from TCID will have a better picture of the weather situation within the next month or two as temperatures begin to melt the record-setting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.

As the refuge takes in more water, Jardine said TCID has been performing maintenance on the Lahontan Dam and at an emergency-built weir and spillway off the V-line canal between Diversion Dam and the 26-Foot Drop, a hydro-electric energy generation facility at the end of Casey Road. Concrete was poured late last week at the spillway to reinforce the banks to prevent them crumbling into a channel heading south toward Sheckler Reservoir and a Navy training range. TCID also turned off the right outlet valve at Lahontan Reservoir for inspection and maintenance.

“We shut down the V-line and no water flowed over the emergency weir,” Jardine said.

He added a damaged concrete section of the dam had to also be removed and repaired, and TCID is waiting for the reattached piece to cure.

Jardine said TCID will begin releasing up to 2,450 cfs of water from the reservoir possibly later this week with 1,400 cfs going to the V-line and 1,000 cfs into the Carson River. Since TCID began a drawdown of water in February, the TCID district manager said 100,000 acre-feet of water has flowed into valley reservoirs as well as the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge.

Water will also flow south, eventually snaking its way to U.S. Highway 95 south of Pasture Road. The final destination is under the culverts and across the field to Carson Lake, a popular birding spot during migration season.

Jardine said the drawdown occurred because hydrologist estimate the current northern snowpack that feeds into the Carson River may contain enough moisture to fill two additional reservoirs the size of Lahontan.

To handle the excess water, the Nevada Dept. of Transportation and Ames Construction completed the installation of four culverts over a three-mile stretch of U.S. 95 last week.

Although cooler weather in the mountains has helped with flood mitigation, Jardine said the excess water may arrive at the culverts sometime next week. The National Weather Service predicted two systems coming into western Nevada this week could “enhance the runoff” to the rivers.

“We’re hoping the cooler temperatures work to our benefit,” Jardine said. “This allows more water out than what we take in.”

Jardine said people who live near the Carson River will also see a fluctuation in the river’s flow once the reservoir increases its discharge of water.


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