Excessive water poses danger in Churchill County

The canals in Churchill County are fully charged with water.

The canals in Churchill County are fully charged with water.
Photo by Steve Ranson.

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With late spring weather becoming warmer, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada’s four major basins that feed into the western part of the Silver State are releasing colder water into the rivers and streams.

In Churchill County, that also means the canal system which feeds water to the area’s ranchers and farmers. Because the Bureau of Reclamation previously planned to work on the Truckee Canal this year, no water is flowing from Derby Canal to Lahontan Reservoir.

Churchill County Sheriff Richard Hickox said because of the area’s canals that crisscross the northern part of the county, he said the stored water provides a blessing not only for food production but also for recreation.

“With this great beauty and resource availability also comes an increase in danger and every few years tragedy strikes in the form of a life taken due to a water encounter,” Hickox said in a Facebook post. “This year we as a community and more correctly a group of communities scattered along the western side of our state are faced with the reality of a record snowpack in the Sierras resulting in record runoffs.”

Because the area had experienced gradual drought since the previous water-record year of 2017, Hickox said marshes and wetlands that received minimal amounts of water are now full.

“Crops and pastures will be watered more frequently as efforts are made to pull water from the system creating room for the runoff that is coming with the elevated temperatures we are soon to experience,” he said. “In short, areas you think are dry might very well hold water this year.”

Hickox said the water’s swiftness and depth can be dangerous in Churchill and Lyon counties. Hickox, though, said he’s concerned about drownings in the canal system.

“It only takes a few seconds for a child to drown,” he said. “Please help us keep our community from experiencing the horror of losing another youngster. Let us all pay extra attention to areas around our homes or recreation areas that might have water that are normally dry.”

Fire departments and rescue squads from many eastern California and Nevada counties to include Churchill are on standby in case a river-rescue must be undertaken. In Churchill County, not only are emergency crews poised to conduct a river or canal rescue, but they are also on standby to help the state and Lyon County at Lahontan Reservoir.

Lahontan Reservoir is seeing its highest levels since 2017 and 2018, and according to both local and state government agencies, it’s important for campers this summer, especially during the Memorial Day weekend, to be vigilant.

Every year, the Truckee Carson Irrigation District advises residents and visitors not to cool off in one of the area’s many canals. TCID officials said the canals are dangerous with their currents and undertow. The canals also contain high levels of bacteria and runoff from farmers’ lands that carry dangerous chemicals into the water.

The canals are part of the federally administered Newlands Project, and the U.S. government prohibits trespassing inside the easement where the canals wind through the valley.

TCID, the Bureau of Reclamation and local law enforcement agencies warn people that swimming in any canal is dangerous and illegal; furthermore, diving into a canal is also not wise, especially when murky water hides any obstacles that could kill or paralyze a victim.


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