Churchill concerned by upstream river demands |

Churchill concerned by upstream river demands

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Ed James talks about the idea of creating a regional water system during the 2005 River Symposium at the Plaza Conference Center on Friday afternoon.

Managing water is not just about what’s possible but what’s right, said Churchill County Manager Brad Goetsch, whose communities are at the eastern end of the Carson River Basin.

“I have been told that ‘high-ority’ trumps priority, and I’ve seen that’s true,” he said Friday. “What’s done up higher affects those at the lower end.”

Goetsch was concerned that continued development, fish and wildlife concerns and other issues upstream may cause problems for Churchill County’s water supply.

“What we need to do is step back and look at the big picture, and then about what our community values are,” he said, adding that those involved in water issues should focus on not just what’s possible but what’s right.

“We need to identify our requirements,” he said. “Laws, environmental needs and the kind of legacy we want to leave our children.”

He said it is essential to identify the relationships between surface water and ground water, and realize “with 70 percent mixing of the two, you can’t do something to one without doing something to the other.”

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Goetsch said state laws do not address the serious effect upstream uses have on downstream communities.

As the low county on the Carson River, Goetsch expressed concern that more developments were planned on the Truckee and Carson rivers, both of which flow into the Lahontan Reservoir – the Carson directly and the Truckee through diversions at Fernley from the river’s natural destination at Pyramid Lake.

Goetsch emphasized that he was not trained as a water expert but as a Navy fighter pilot and said he thought he brought more of a common-man approach to the 2005 Carson River Symposium held Friday at the Plaza Hotel in Carson City.

“The transfer of water rights from one segment of the river to another segment of the river and injection wells all have the same impact,” he said. “We don’t know what that impact is and we haven’t looked at that impact.”

Goetsch said Churchill County is no longer a “sleepy little farm community. We’re changing. Churchill has one-third the farms it used to have.”

He said the county had about 30,000 residents, thousands of square feet of industry, an airport proposal, two highways, more than 100,000 visitors and four wildlife and wetlands to manage.

“A lot of change is being demanded from our own county,” he said. “We’ve had a slower start than the upstream folks have had, but we have the same growth the upstream folks have had.”

Chris Mahannah, a civil engineer with Water Research and Development, said it is important to look at the Alpine Decree that set priorities for water rights, historical conjunctive use and conveyance considerations. He also added that much water was lost from one gage to another.

“I think there are going to be some challenges and there is a lot of pressure from developers to make it quick and easy,” he said, adding that nothing about water was quick and easy.

Goetsch said he would like to see a partnership upstream and downstream, among all the communities that use the river.

“Let’s do the right thing for all of us on the river and let’s make sure we know what we’re doing before we pull a project,” he said.

— Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 882-2111 ext. 351.

By the numbers

Churchill County Water Supply

Groundwater (perennial yield): 2,400 to 1,500 acre-feet(difference is due to agricultural recharge)

Surface Water:

Average inflow: 395,802 acre-feet

Dry year inflow: (1992): 116,432 acre-feet

Wet year inflow: (1983): 771,855 acre-feet

Flow at Churchill Gage

Average year: 283,540 acre-feet

Dry year: 26,260 acre-feet

Wet year: 804,600 acre-feet

Average annual flow differential from Carson City and Fort Churchill Gage

Jan.-March: 1,111 acre-feet

April-June: 6,983 acre-feet

July-Sept.: 3,094 acre-feet

Oct.-Dec.: 3,132 acre-feet