A lifetime of watching the rivers flow
October 26, 2012
At an age when many people are well into retirement, Garry Stone, 74, and Julian Larrouy, 78, have decided it is time to turn over their duties as stewards of what is arguably Nevada’s most precious resource – water.
Stone retired July 31 after 28 years as the U.S. federal watermaster. Larrouy is in the process of training his replacement as deputy watermaster for the East Fork of the Carson River, a position he’s held since 1989.
Stone and Larrouy stood on a bridge over the Carson River in the bright October sunshine recently and put their combined 113 years of water experience into perspective.
“It’s an intriguing challenge,” said Stone, who turns 75 on Monday. “You have to be tuned into the job. Every single day without exception is different than the one before. A lot of pride goes with using every drop of water, and not wasting it. That’s where our pride comes in. We’ve done what we’re supposed to do.”
For a newcomer to Nevada’s arid landscape, the concept of a “watermaster” can be baffling.
The federal watermaster is charged with regulating the waters of the Truckee River as defined by the Orr Ditch Decree and the Alpine Decree on the Carson River. His job is to ensure that water is allocated according to established water rights as determined by adjudication or agreements.
Bruce Scott, a partner at Resource Concepts Inc., in Carson City, and a water rights veteran, explained the importance of the watermaster’s job.
“One thing people don’t realize is that the river becomes increasingly important as the distribution of water, and implementation of the (Alpine) decree becomes more critical. That’s important for nonagricultural water users to understand as the (Carson) Valley grows and develops,” Scott said.
The watermaster’s rulebook for the Carson River is the Alpine Decree, which sets forth regulation of water rights.
The decree was the result of a lawsuit filed on May 11, 1925, and settled 55 years later on Oct. 28, 1980. The decree was affirmed on Jan. 14, 1983.
“It’s the longest court battle in the history of the West,” Stone said. “The heart and soul of the decree has never been changed. There have been challenges, but it’s never been changed, and I hope it never is.”
The decree sets forth how the water in the Carson River is allocated, based on individual water rights, and the supply.
“It’s so well written,” Stone said. “Judge (Bruce) Thompson had a real feel for how the water is allocated. He did it in such a way, that administering the decree is at a minimum cost to users. We’ve done the best we could to keep the cost down.”
Stone, who graduated in 1958 of University of Nevada, Reno, has a family background in water.
“My grandfather and uncles worked when the Rye Patch Reservoir was being constructed,” he said. “In my real early youth, I spent a lot of time with them on the water. You might say it’s kind of a family heritage. “
Larrouy admitted the responsibility kept him up at night.
“It’s one of the most challenging jobs a person can have. Once the river gets down to priorities, it literally keeps you awake at night. You think about the next day, what kind of supply you’re going to have, who is going to get the water. It’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The river does not turn off,” he said.
Neither Stone nor Larrouy can envision a time when monitoring the rivers’ resources will be accomplished without eyes on the water.
“With the technical developments, we get instantaneous information on the reservoirs and storage to a great degree. But you have to keep meticulous records, keep track of all the diversion. And Julian has done an exemplary job,” Stone said. “Every time we go by a ditch, or the river we can’t help but look at it. We know how much water is in there, how fast it’s moving. It’s been the lifeblood for both of us.”
Before coming to work for the federal watermaster’s office in 1989, Larrouy worked for the Bureau of Reclamation in Carson City. When he announced his retirement plans from that office, Stone encouraged him to become deputy watermaster for the east and west forks of the Carson River as well as the Alpine County Reservoir.
“I’m not sure that the water users really understand and appreciate what the water master and the deputies go through on a daily basis,” Stone said. “They want their water, and you’re always shutting somebody off.”
“Even though you follow the Alpine Decree, there are a lot of other variables and priorities. You spread the water the best you can. You try to keep everybody with enough water for good, healthy crops,” he said. “The ranchers are understanding in most cases. They don’t give you too much trouble over what you can’t control.”
Engineer Scott said he was sorry to see the veterans retire.
“For those of us who work in water, you hate to see these changes,” Scott said. “But they have given huge blocks of their lives to make the distribution of water on the Carson River as equitable, fair and reasonable as possible. It’s a labor of love. You don’t get adequately compensated for the headaches and the issues you have to deal with. I have to tip my hat to them and say, ‘Thanks. You have done a wonderful service for the Valley.'”
Scott said the job is demanding and stressful.
“These are not easy jobs, especially in a dry year. I don’t think people realize how fortunate we’ve been to have Garry as the watermaster during some very difficult times on the Truckee and the Carson. He was very effective at keeping it at an even keel, and keeping it from getting politicized.”
Meeting in 1958, Stone and Larrouy have been friends as well as colleagues.
“We never had a boss-employee relationship,” Larrouy said. “Garry listens to your problems, he’s just marvelous to work for.”
Before he became watermaster, Stone served as a Douglas County commissioner in the early 1980s. He and his wife Susan moved back to Carson Valley seven years ago.
“I’m looking for something to do,” Stone said. “I know I can’t sit on the couch watching ‘Gunsmoke’ reruns.”
They agreed that however they spend retirement, they won’t stray far from the river they love.
“There are a couple times a year, when the water is high – but not when it’s flooding, I don’t like that – when I like to sit by the water and just listen,” Larrouy said.