Low Lahontan level harms farmers, consumers and boaters
August 1, 2008
The Lahontan Reservoir is half the size it usually is at this time of year and getting lower all the time.
That is a problem for boaters, who are being asked not to use the lake, but it’s even more of a problem for farmers who rely on water from the reservoir to irrigate their crops, leading to some farmers not planting all available fields.
David Overvold, project manager for the Truckee Carson Irrigation District, said every farmer or rancher who relies on Lahontan water will have to make due with less this year.
“We’re not going to get a full supply,” he said, adding that he expected farmers would receive 25 percent less water for irrigation than last year.
He said the lake is 70,000 acre-feet right now, half of the 140,000 acre-feet it was last year at this time.
“The year before that it was about 275,000 acre-feet, almost double,” he said.
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Two reasons for the low lake level are the break in the Truckee Canal that flooded Fernley on Jan. 5, and a drier than normal year.
“This year we only have 35 percent of a normal runoff,” he said.
As for the canal break, “if that hadn’t have happened we would have had another three months of 20,000 acre-feet a month. We would have had a full supply.”
He said all farms will get less, causing them to leave some fields fallow or suffer a reduction in their yield, impacting dairies, ranches and farms that grow everything from cantaloupe to corn to alfalfa, which could cause a rise in prices.
Overvold said the lake level will continue to drop.
“We expect by the end of August we will be down to 32,000 acre-feet, and we’ll probably shut down around mid-September at about 15,000 acre-feet,” he said. “And usually the irrigation season goes on to November.”
The Lahontan Reservoir is fed by the Carson River and the Truckee River, where water flows through the Truckee Canal.
The Truckee River was running about 150 cubic feet per second of water above Fernley and at least 100 cfs were coming in to the reservoir, he said. No water was coming in from the Carson River right now.
What happens next year depends on the amount of runoff from the winter.
“We also expect Lake Tahoe to be down to rim level by November or December,” he said.
Ed James, executive director of the Carson Water Subconservancy District, which manages the Carson watershed, predicted there would be restrictions next year on how much will go through the Truckee canal.
“If we have normal or below normal (flow) on the Carson River, Lahontan will not fill again,” he said.
He said the lake went completely dry in the 1960s and once in 1977.
It is low enough for the Nevada State Parks Division to remove the Silver Springs and North Shore Marina docks and issue an advisory against boating on the lake, warning that those who do are acting at their own risk and should use caution.
The lake was low in November 2007, at the end of irrigation season with 62,000 acre-feet. Eric Johnson, State Parks regional manager for the Fallon district, said that although the lake is called the Lahontan State Recreation Area, recreating is not the first priority.
“It’s important to note that Lahontan was constructed as part of the Newlands Project,” he said. “The needs of the recreating public come second to the needs of the farmers, and a lot of people don’t seem to realize that.”
Jim Canepa, owner of Marine Specialties in Sparks, said the lake is preferred for water skiing and wakeboarding.
He goes out about a half-dozen times a year on his 20-foot Sanger, and said the lake wasn’t too bad until after the Fourth of July.
Canepa said it’s not common for the lake to be down so low.
“It’s definitely a lake that fluctuates.”
He said he’ll probably spend more time at Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake and Washoe Lake, but added the mountain lakes are colder than Lahontan, which is the reason the lower-elevation lake is more popular for watersports.
Canepa said it was dangerous to boat in a lake that is lower than normal, especially an unfamiliar one, because of stumps, rocks and sandbars the boater would never be aware of at normal lake levels.
Business is a little slower than in the past, he said, but attributed it to the slow economy rather than lake problems.
– Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-7351.