Carson River may be key to valley’s development
GARDNERVILLE – One of the key questions about the Carson River is whether its water will be needed to sustain Carson Valley’s growth.
Carson Valley’s water comes from underground, and for the most part does not need to be treated. Water removed from the aquifer is replaced by seepage from the surface, known as recharge.
Pumping water from the aquifer in excess of the amount being recharged is called “mining” water, which is not permitted under Nevada water laws.
Jim Vasey, owner of Water Inc. of Minden, a water-consulting firm, said groundwater and surface water are connected, according to U.S. Geological Survey water studies.
“If growth continues, and I see no reason why it’ll stop,” Vasey said, “Douglas County needs to take this into account and buy water surface rights to offset any adverse effects, and probably should address alternative ways” for treatment.
At present, the river recharges Carson Valley’s aquifer at 35,000 acre-feet a year, according to the state engineer’s office. Much of that water enters the aquifer through irrigation of the valley’s fields.
County leaders are waiting for a hydrology study being conducted by the Geological Survey before saying if there even is an issue.
“I can’t actually say there is or (is) not a problem,” said Bob Nunes, manager of the county’s Community Development Department. “It’s a concern, but we can’t address that until we have good, factual data on groundwater.”
Douglas County Manager Dan Holler agrees the USGS survey hydrology study, commissioned by the county this year, will start producing results in 2005 to determine the infiltration water budget.
Besides, Holler said, the “control of the water is not under county” jurisdiction, but the Carson Water Subconservancy District. He said debates stem from contrary reports that put the annual discharge at either 49,000 or 35,000 acre feet available in Douglas County.
“Right now, if you look, we are out 15 to 20 years without having to do significant changes,” Holler said. “The real question is how much ag uses.”
However, Sustainable Growth Initiative co-chairman John Garvin points out that it will be quite a bit longer before people know the full effects.
“We’re not going to have an answer; we are going to have data,” Garvin said. “It is not going to give us an answer to how much growth we can have. We’re told ‘let’s wait for studies to come out.’ But the answer won’t be there in four years.”
Fifteen years ago, Douglas County began a process to pull more water out of the aquifer than currently allowed by submitting 17 applications to the state Division of Water Resources to acquire rights in the valley.
Last June, the state denied all applications because the county “has no overall water service plan or service commitment for the area and has not demonstrated a need for the water as applied for.”
Arnold Settelmeyer, longtime Carson Valley rancher and chairman of the Douglas County Water Conveyance Committee, said that in dry years, such as the drought Nevada now faces, agriculture producers tend to pump more water.
“Each has adequate pumping rights,” Holler said. “As of today, do we have a shortage? No.”
A 1996 request by the Paiute Tribe could mean a significant change to the method for distribution of Carson River rights through the Alpine Decree. Attorney Robert Pelcyger took up the issue with the U.S. attorney general and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
He requested water duties for specific acreage, limits to canal and ditch diversions, reduction of diversions taken out of production, and identification of all irrigated lands with post-1902 water rights off the Carson River.
“Because of the federal Alpine Decree, (groundwater) rights are fully appropriated,” Vasey warned, “Some surface owner will litigate, and it will become a legal issue that could affect everybody in the valley.”
Settelmeyer said the county is ignoring the connection between surface water and groundwater, but needs to establish some sort of plan.
“We need to watch water rights and be careful. People all over the U.S. are drying up smaller parcels not being farmed for production, and I don’t want to see that in Douglas County. And we always need to be aware of our neighbors. Los Angeles Power is right at our back door.”
Vasey said the county needs to better plan its water resources.
“They are not facing it because it is a big negative,” he said. “I don’t know the solution.”