An old time rancher once told my husband to be sure to give our fields a long drink of water before putting them to bed for the winter. Last year we tried to, but this spring our fields are waking up real thirsty. Even nonhibernating bears know this is not a normal water year.
This is the first time we can ever recall the Federal Water Master allowing priority water rights to take effect so early.
In wet springs, ranchers are not so anxious about when they take their share of river water and when to turn it loose. With a good spring run, Carson Valley ranches get that first good long, cold drink of water.
This year the water is going to come in sips. Priority rights began in March. And even then it was hard to get water from the river to start early priority taking.
Even with that early April snow storm in the mountains the water is disappearing fast. It is being absorbed by dry mountain ground even before it makes its way down to the Valley.
Snow water equivalents supplied by the California Cooperative Snow Surveys dated April 8 reports water stored in the Northern Sierra is 25 percent of normal for this date; Central Sierras 40 percent; and Southern 34 percent. These are numbers of normal years with years of drought already factored in. This is a dry year, folks.
In past decades when dragging fields in spring I smell sweet clover, and the fresh smell of tender grass, bruised but not cut, like the freshness of a lemon twist. This year while dragging I only smelled dust. Felt it blow in my ears, in my teeth, and saw it actually billow up in small patches behind the drag in the hay field. Not a good sign.
Not being a good water year brown is going to come fast. Drought conditions have been declared in certain California and Nevada counties. Politicians and notables have toured the areas. Water is now a political issue. A sought after commodity.
Las Vegas is looking for long term solutions to quench its thirst by tapping into centuries old aquifers in rural Nevada. Las Vegas newspapers state city officials admit they can no longer alleviate their water shortage with conservation methods. Ranchers in the eastern part of Nevada are worried their water supply will disappear into the desert like California water does in Los Angeles.
In the Elko area there is the added water pressure to supply huge amounts of water for fracking. Water that will be purposely polluted with chemicals to help extract oil from underground.
When cities and oil companies brag about growth, increasing jobs and stimulating economies, it is hard for a small rural population to argue loudly enough for keeping simply clean water for feed and health. Maybe ranchers and environmentalist types can stand together and say healthy, clean water is a more beneficial asset than economic growth, desert home development or increased oil production. Who knows what could happen then? Vegetarians have been invited to bull sales in Nevada. Out West anything is possible.
Be mindful how you use your water. It may be the best we get for years to come.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.