Protesters say they’re just looking out for their rights |

Protesters say they’re just looking out for their rights

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

It’s easy to believe there’s plenty of water in Northern Nevada if you’re looking at it from upstream.

That’s the message from the two largest protesters of water rights changes in both the Truckee and the Carson River.

Don Springmeyer, attorney for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Indians, said the tribe protests every water change to protect its interests. The Paiutes’ main revenue source is fishing, camping and boating at the lake, which is fed by the Truckee River. A few Indian ranchers have water rights for livestock and growing alfalfa, he said.

He said if Lahontan Reservoir didn’t get enough water from the Carson River, water will be taken from the Truckee.

“We’re not saying we have to tell you what you do with the water, as long as every drop that has to get to the Lahontan reservoir actually gets to the Lahontan reservoir,” he said.

Springmeyer blamed the Newlands Project, designed to irrigate the desert and lure settlers to Nevada in the early part of the century, for dropping the lake 80 feet by the 1930s and rendering Lake Winnemucca, over the foothills to the east of Pyramid, dry.

“The Bureau of Reclamation built dams to divert water to the Newlands Project,” Springmeyer said. “They created the Newlands Project to seduce people to move out here and then later realized they screwed the tribe and hurt the environment.”

He said if Lahontan reservoir levels drop, the difference will be made up by diverting water through the Truckee Canal at the Derby Dam, to the reservoir.

He said the tribe wants to see the end of the Truckee Canal.

“Close the Truckee Canal and then you can do whatever you want with the Carson River,” he said. “They want the Newlands Project to rely on the Carson River for its complete water source.”

Springmeyer said Pyramid Lake has been recovering since the 1930s, but it’s not what it was. He said Lake Winnemucca will never come back until the canal is closed.

He said the tribe wanted all applications suspended until a comprehensive study of the Carson Valley and Dayton Valley Hydrographic basins were completed and proof existed they were not being overpumped.

He said most of the tribe’s protests in Washoe County’s stretch of the Truckee River have been settled by the Truckee River Operating Agreement, but protests are still being filed in the Truckee Canyon area of Storey County, including applications from the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center.

Springmeyer said the tribe is studying a draft agreement put together by Lyon County and Churchill County officials.

Brad Goetsch, Churchill County manager, said his county doesn’t protest every change application, but only “anything where pumping or surface water rights impacted senior water rights downstream.”

He said protests would be triggered if the application was for temporary use, but the use was not temporary in nature; if there is no water available without exceeding safe or perennial yield; if the use conflicts with senior rights by the county or its residents; or if the use is detrimental to the health and safety of Churchill County residents.

“Our water laws were made at a time when we were begging for people to come to Nevada,” he said. “So they were developed with the idea of attracting people. We’ve now got a robust economy and large population. Now it’s time to take a look at the environment and the people that are here.”

He said over the past 10 years there have been dozens of new wells and applications to move points of diversion to near the river, which he said takes water from the river.

His biggest objection is the moving of water rights from the Stagecoach sub-basin to near the Carson River in Carson Plains, adding that all Churchill wants is a guarantee of no impact.

“Churchill County has offered to withdraw its protests if Lyon will guarantee that if studies show they impact the river, they’ll put back the same amount of water,” he said. “We don’t want to interfere with their economic development, we just want to be sure that they obey the law.”

Goetsch said in the end, all Churchill County officials want is for the character and flows in the Carson River to be sustained and maintained.

“We think its a great resource for recreation, for power, and it supports the Newlands Project and all the agriculture in Lyon and Churchill counties,” he said. “We think the Walker River, Carson River and Truckee River should all be allowed to flow, to host fish and wildlife and to support the senior water rights holders who have obeyed the law.”

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


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