Record-breaking drought killing wetlands fish in Carson City
The Carson River is low. Mexican Ditch, the artery that feeds Carson City’s Riverview Park wetlands, is dry. Hundreds of fish are slowly dying in the mire that was once a pond.
“The fish are trapped in shallow water and they’re dying due to lack of oxygen,” said Carson City Parks Superintendent Scott Fahrenbruck.
“Park staff in waders with nets will clean up the area, but we won’t know how many fish have been affected until we get in there and assess the situation,” he said.
The clean-up should be completed today. Most are carp, and those that are alive will be relocated, according to Fahrenbruck.
“Typically, we see dry conditions this time of year, but this is the worst and longest we’ve seen since the wetlands were created,” Fahrenbruck said.
Located at the east end of Fifth Street, the area encompasses about 25 acres, built and developed under a cooperative agreement between Stanton Park Development and Carson City. The earthwork and the creation of 1.2 miles of trails was completed in 1996.
Most wildlife, such as birds and deer, will relocate on their own, according to Fahrenbruck. But, water sources are shrinking everywhere, putting a strain on all wildlife.
“We had drought years from 1987 to 1993 and 1976 to1977, but none as dry as this,” said Gary Barbato, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Reno. “This is by far the driest year since 1872 in Reno.”
Carson City has seen just 3.29 inches, or 33 percent of normal rainfall, since the start of this year’s season in October. Normally, about 10.04 inches has fallen by this time Barbato said.
Reno has received 2.04 inches of rainfall, just 30 percent of normal, but the Truckee River is flowing well due the reserves stored behind dams in the Sierra.
“Water is banked for dry years on the Truckee,” he said. “But Boca (Dam) will be empty by the end of this summer and if we have another dry year, Tahoe will dip below its rim.”
Julian Larrouy, deputy water master in Carson Valley, said the Carson River is running at low ebb, about 30 cubic feet per second.
“It’s hard to say what’s normal in Nevada, but in July of 1995, Carson River ran about 950 cubic feet per second,” Larrouy said.
With the exception of Alpine Reservoir, a small reserve that won’t make a significant difference in the river’s flow, there are no reservoirs on the upper Carson River.
“Ranchers are hurting for water in Douglas and at this point in time, 90 percent are out of priority, meaning they can no longer receive water from the river,” Larrouy said. ”
The Washoe Indian tribe and three ranchers in the valley get allotments from the river per an 1858 agreement. The rest must rely on the Alpine Reservoir, according to Larrouy.
In the 1950s, the Bureau of Reclamation proposed building some reservoirs, but politics, cost of the project and the concerns of local ranchers as well as those in Fallon’s Newlands Project killed the idea.
“I seriously don’t think they will ever be built,” Larrouy said. “Large ranchers didn’t feel they needed the water at the time and ranchers in the Newlands project thought they might lose water. “