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River panel waiting on federal funding

by Nancy Dallas

With costs adding up, Carson Water Subconservancy District officials are impatiently waiting for the federal government to come forward with its promise to help with a water rights purchase program.

Board member and Churchill County Commissioner Gwenn Washburn advised the board to be wary about becoming too involved in the project before the funds are received.

“Be cautious of jumping into this until the federal money comes in. If the program proves unsuccessful, I fear they will pull out,” she said.

According to District General Manager Ed James, each of the other agencies involved in the program have submitted at least a portion of their share of the funding.

“I have been told that before the federal money can be distributed, (Bureau of Reclamation) must do an environmental assessment. They are doing that at this point,” James said Tuesday. “I will be writing a letter to Betsy Rieke (BOR area manager) requesting she attend our next meeting to update us on what is happening.”

The 1999 Legislature put the subconservancy district to in charge of the Newlands Project Water Rights Fund. The special fund will be used to purchase surface water rights from sellers within the Newlands Reclamation Project. The water rights will then be retired.

The water rights program was established to eliminate litigation between the Paiute Tribe and area water users over unused water rights in the Newlands Project, which includes the agricultural area downstream of Lake Lahontan in Churchill County and east of Fernley.

In addition to the federal appropriation of $7 million to be passed to the conservancy district through the Bureau of Reclamation, the Legislature allocated $3.6 million; Sierra Pacific, $2.5 million; and other regional water agencies, $100,000.

The district has already incurred $11,815 in administrative costs and is hesitant to go further until the bureau explains why no federal funding has been received.

“I am concerned with BOR’s commitment to the project,” Board member and Douglas County Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen said at last week’s Board of Director’s meeting. “I am mad and I am getting nervous. I would like to see Betsy Rieke here with a check in her hand. It is time we played hardball with this.”

Carson City supervisor and board member Kay Bennett urged caution, saying, “We are partners in this. We need to give them an opportunity to explain where the funds are.”

Etchegoyhen urged a strongly worded letter be written to Reike, asking her to appear before the board to explain why the funding has not been made available.