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Valley water in short supply

Steve Puterski
sputerski@lahontanvalleynews.com
Water allocations for the 2015 growing season will only be 20 percent for local famers and ranchers.
STEVE RANSON / SRANSON@LAHONTANVALLEYNEWS.COM |

The allocation is as dry as the weather forecast.

On Tuesday, the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District’s Board of Directors set the water season, allocation and minimum pool at its monthly meeting.

Strangled by drought the past three years, the board set a 20 percent allocation for the Truckee and Carson districts. Water orders will commence March 15, but deliveries will not be made for the Truckee division until April 1.

For the Carson district, deliveries will not be made until 1,000 acre-feet of water have been ordered including wildlife entities. The minimum pool was set at 4,000 acre-feet for Lahontan Reservoir.

The water season, meanwhile, is expected to close between June 15 and July 1.

The board also set March 24 and 26 as the dates for the annual water users meetings. The locations, however, will be determined in the coming days.

“If people don’t water bad ground, we could make it until the end of June,” TCID President Ernie Schank said. “Realistically, we are looking at June 15 (for an end date). July 1 is when we will be dry.”

The directors spent about 90 minutes discussing the possibilities and obstacles before approving this season’s allocation.

The April 1 delivery date was set due to ongoing construction at Lewis Spillway and concerns over the completion date. Since no board member could accurately predict when construction would finish, and in order to get a limited supply of water to its users, TCID opted for an April 1 start date.

Deputy Project Manager Walt Winder estimated 98,000 acre-feet of water to be available, according to projections based on a 90 percent model. The model is one of the driest estimates available to irrigation districts, although Winder said the 70 percent model showed virtually the same numbers.

“The 90 and 70 models were almost identical,” he added. “Hopefully, we have more rain to boost us, but I don’t see it happening.”

Schank said the district may be able to pull some storage from Boca and Prosser reservoirs, but it would be minimal.

“The reality is we are looking at one-and-a-half irrigations,” he said.

The problem, however, is the Truckee Canal, along with lines and laterals down from Lahontan Reservoir, has been dry for months. The result, Winder said, is the district expects to lose at least 50 percent — and more likely up to 55 percent — of the water released into the ground before it becomes saturated enough to allow for better efficiency.

And the district accepted it will not meet the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s efficiency numbers this season.

Winder said TCID’s recent record of efficiency has been subpar due to the drought and the dry ground swallowing so much water once the system is charged.

For example, last year’s first release for delivery netted a 56.4 percent efficiency, while in 2013 it was about 64 percent and in 2012 the number was about 58 percent.

“It’s like trying to fill a sponge with an eyedropper,” Winder said. “I have seen drains that are dry that I have never seen dry in my life.”

This year’s allotment is the worst since 1994 when users in both districts were capped between 25 and 28 percent, Schank said.

As for the minimum pool, the board discussed a 10,000 acre-foot limit, similar to last year, but opted for the 4,000 acre-foot threshold.

Chris Urquhart, sports fisheries biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, told the board a 4,000 acre-foot limit would not protect the fish at Lahontan Reservoir because the water would evaporate and then seep away, leaving the lake dry by the end of summer.

As a result, many were left wondering why not empty the lake completely to give users another 4,000 acre-feet.

Nevertheless, the lack of water and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada left those in attendance in a near full room acknowledging this season is one of the worst in decades.

Concerns from water users in the Newlands Project, though, directed TCID to have the infrastructure in place before beginning deliveries.

“You need to approve something and stick with it,” Fernley resident Lowell Patton said. “You have to allow us the most flexible timeline possible.”