TCID, FPST wrangle over water |

TCID, FPST wrangle over water

Steve Puterski
Lahontan Reservoir's water level is quickly dropping and is approaching 10,000 acre feet. The Truckee Carson Irrigation District has announced it will cut off water orders this week.

A passionate discussion manifested into intense verbal sparring Monday at the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District’s monthly meeting.

The display between members of TCID’s Board of Directors, the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe and Bureau of Indian Affairs centered on water deliveries to the tribe. Earlier in the meeting, the board said they expected the irrigation season to end Tuesday as water orders over the weekend and Monday reduced the storage level of Lahontan Reservoir to its cutoff point of 4,000 acre-feet.

On Tuesday, TCID announced the closure of the 2013 water season and will not take any more water orders.

Willie Steve, representing the FPST, and Gerry Emm of the BIA laid out their expectations to receive water in October. Emm said the tribe, is and required by federal law, to receive its 100 percent allotment.

The two sides negotiated terms of the late deliveries after the TCID board convened for a litigation session to determine possible legal ramifications. TCID Project Manager Rusty Jardine said the two sides found common ground for the district to provide water to the tribe.

The deal allows the tribe to collect about 808 acre-feet of water to be delivered in three segments, and may not exceed flow levels coming into Lahontan Reservoir via the Truckee Canal. Readings for the flows will be monitored by the gauge at the Bango check.

While the tribe is lawfully entitled to its water, confusion surrounding the issue stems from legislation under Operating Criteria and Procedures (OCAP). The start and end of a water season is left to the discretion of the TCID board, while state and federal law require the tribe to receive its full allotment.

One issue both sides agreed on was the necessity for distinct clarification through OCAP and the law.

The tribe is part of the Carson District, which received a 75 percent allotment due to one of the driest winters in Nevada history. The lack of snow and runoff from the Sierra Mountains compelled the district to announce in March the current allotment for Carson District users.

TCID, though, countered the water season is over and its efficiency would be hammered by the late-season watering of the system. Director Joe Gomes was adamant it was not the fault of the board that the season came to an early end, and an exception would open a can of worms for the district.

In addition, Gomes and other board members said all users including the tribe were made aware of water conditions in the spring.

TCID President Ernie Schank, though, was focused on efficiency rates and the possibility of earning debits to fill the FPST orders.

Playing peacemaker, Director Eric Olsen said he supports the tribe and its mission, although he was skeptical about a one-time waiver. He said it could open the door for TCID losing control of scheduling the water season.

Olsen said he has left water “on the card” for the good of all users.

“I think we can work something out this year, but next year would be a no,” he added.

TCID Treasurer Lester de Braga lobbed allegations of improper use of water by the tribe and said filling orders after the close of the season would strain relations between tribal and other Carson District users.

De Braga said rumors are circulating that point to an August request of water by the tribe to be used for wetlands but made its way to agriculture lands. He said if this request is filled, how would the district determine if the water went to its intended use for agriculture or to tribal wetlands.

Schank’s main concern, though, was the backing of the FPST and BIA to support TCID’s plea to the Bureau of Reclamation to waive any debits caused by the deliveries. Schank said his concerns would not be alleviated by the BOR and its attorneys, since TCID’s application for an efficiency waiver may not succeed.

Schank, however, said safeguards must be put in place to protect the district’s ability to deliver water.

The FPST and BIA said they will support TCID’s claims not to be punished for releasing water into the system, according to Jardine.

Natural losses occur when water is moved through the system from seepage to evaporation. In addition, Jardine said the district receives thousands of acre-feet of storage water in Lahontan Reservoir if the district hits its target of a 70 percent efficiency rate.

Losses, or water debits, however, can also result in thousands of acre-feet if TCID does not reach its required percentage. Charging the system takes about 2,000 acre-feet. A complex formula from the BOR, Jardine said, determines whether the district will receive credits or debits.

He added the district must also follow OCAP and numerous court decrees to deliver water without harming the Newlands Project and its users.