As temperatures rise, region starving for more winter storms | NevadaAppeal.com
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As temperatures rise, region starving for more winter storms

Andrew Pridgen
Appeal Staff Writer
NEVADAAPPEAL FILEPHOTO Water from Lahontan Reservoir is primarily used as irrigation for area farmers.
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In the wake of the New Year’s weekend storms, Northern Nevadans were flush with rain – just ask Fernley residents.

One wet month later and Sierra ski resorts were predicting one of the longest seasons in recent history.

By the time a set of late-February storms came through, it looked as if last year’s drought talk was all but vanquished.

Not so – thanks to three weeks of dry weather and only minor storms on meterologists’ radar as spring approaches.

Midway through what is traditionally the fourth-wettest month of the year, the picture is growing ever bleaker with each passing sunny day.

“We’ve had no (precipitation) in March,” said Chad Blanchard, chief hydrologist for the U.S. District Court Water Master. “We could end up well below average.

“But the main point is it’s still fairly early and a lot is to be determined. Things are still looking average. We could end up fairly wet or pretty dry.”

A series of small storms will move into the area starting today, but most will affect areas to the north.

“For the first set, there’s not much in the way of precipitation,” said Brian O’Hara, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service Reno office. “This weekend there will be a good low-pressure system bringing some good rain showers down below and some snow in the mountains.”

O’Hara said this set of storms could even stretch into mid-week next week, bringing scattered showers here and up to a foot of snow in the mountains. In this, he cautioned, the storm will resemble the more spring-like conditions of late.

“Things are starting to warm up as we get closer to spring and the (storm) will reflect that,” he said.

If March ends as it has begun, area water experts said they’ll start casting a more critical eye on how to deal with potential shortages.

“The carry-over water storage isn’t all that great because of last year’s drought year,” Blanchard said. “We dipped way into our storage just to meet minimum flows. All precipitation that has fallen has been snow.”

Blanchard said the dry hillsides of the Sierra also soak up much of the snowpack, leaving run-off levels uncertain.

“We haven’t stored any water this year,” he said.

Area reservoirs may start off depleted this year, said Dan Greenlee, a hydrologist for Natural Resources Conservation Services office in Reno.

“My understanding is there’s enough (water) in Tahoe to make up deficiencies in the Truckee system,” he said. “In the Carson system, there’s not a whole lot upstream. Lahontan Reservoir will probably not have enough to meet the (water) needs in Fallon. That will be an impact on those folks there – it may get dicey.”

The dirt levee system, which carries water to ag lands in western Nevada, is still under repair in Fernley.

The ripple effect will first affect agricultural water use, officials said.

“Pretty much what Lahontan supplies is for the (ag) community,” Greenlee said. “If they don’t get a full allotment, they don’t get their full cutting on alfalfa.

“It’s like taking one-third off your salary right off the top.”

On a whole, however, Greenlee said snow pack was at or slightly above average on March 1. But this could change soon, he warned.

“If we don’t get any more snow, we could drop below average by April 1,” he said. “We wouldn’t be in as bad a shape as last year, but we won’t be looking great either.”

Water-monitoring agency officials said this year’s official outlook should be a lot clearer by the beginning of May, but for now, residents should know the facts: “Everyone thinks it’s a huge year and it’s not,” Blanchard said. “As a percent of the precipitation, we’re not even 50 percent for the whole water year which ends Sept. 30.

“The big months have already passed and we’re only 77 percent of where we should be today – we’re not even at average, as far as water. We have a long time to go, but each month you get less and less and less.”