DAYTON - A visit to the Carson River gave conservation groups an opportunity Thursday to show U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., what their efforts have accomplished.
With cooperation and partnerships the theme of the day, Ensign said he was impressed with what he saw as a model for other watershed protection programs.
"Most of the time when dealing with water issues in the West, you don't see this kind of cooperation. And if you are not on the same page, it is difficult for us to help," he told those attending Thursday's gathering at the Borda Ranch east of Dayton. "Seeing this group together gives me hope for what is to come."
Most agreed the flood of January 1997 was the catalyst that brought the coalition together. County commissioner and Subconservancy District board member Bob Milz said the agencies are trying to promote a regional approach in developing partnerships with stakeholders along the river.
"A more healthy river can be an example for other watersheds throughout the country. The coalition that's been put together for this watershed leads the way for how it ought to happen," Milz said.
The visit was part of Ensign's two-day tour of rural Nevada. Welcomed by representatives of the various groups working together to conserve and restore the Carson River watershed, he was told of the many problems landowners have faced in the past and what has been accomplished to help resolve them in the future.
The riverbanks adjacent to the Borda Ranch offered a good example of future challenges.
The devastation of the January 1997 flood was a primary reason the Borda family sold their sheep and the ranch became inactive.
Family representative John Gavin told Ensign, "it changed the course of their life on a short-term basis. We are concerned about the land; we're concerned about the future. If we don't do it, it's not going to get done."
Dan Kaffer, Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development coordinator for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Office, told Ensign, "what you are looking at on the Carson River here with the erosion we have, and the problems that have occurred on the river over generations, left us with some tough conditions. We see this happening up and down this watershed - loss of land, loss of habitat, loss of property. We hope you can become a partner in the process.
"One of the reasons we have been successful is because everyone here, even with their divergent interests, is willing to agree we can't accept conditions like this and we all want to work together to change things," Kaffer said.
Following the presentation, Ensign said there are three things he can do: Work on doing his part to keep the people working together; look for the needed federal appropriations; and make sure projects are funded on sound science and not as pet political projects.
"Normally one of our greatest powers is to bring people together, but they are already doing that part of it, so they've done a big part of our job. Now we must try and identify, based on local input, if there are places Harry (U.S. Sen. Reid, D-Nev.) and I can help with funding. But also what we must learn what works and then share that with others."
Carson Water Subconservancy District Manager Ed James said he hoped Ensign's visit would give him an understanding of what the coordinating agencies are actually dealing with and to see firsthand how the problems are being addressed.
"He has a short stay with us today, but hopefully, in the future he can come back and say 'Yes, this is an example of how working together as a watershed can resolve our problems' versus fighting among ourselves and getting nothing done."
Kevin Piper, manager of the Dayton Valley Conservation District, said $1.6 million has been spent on 20 projects within an eight-mile stretch of the Dayton Valley portion of the river. "And we are still looking at millions of dollars of work left to do."
Federal funding has covered 75 percent of the cost, with the remainder paid though local and state funds. Piper said local resources have matched in excess of five to 10 times the federal requirement.
Following the formal presentations, Angie Borda Page said she was pleased to have a U.S. senator visit the family ranch.
"I think it is important the people in Washington be more cognizant of what the ranchers and farmers are dealing with day in and day out. Our growth has changed us tremendously and I think that a lot of our agricultural background is disappearing. I'm sorry to see that."
Other individuals presenting background information to Ensign included Tom Minor with the Dayton Valley Conservation District and Nick Pearson, State conservationist with the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. State Sens. Lawrence Jacobsen and Mark Amodei were also in attendance.
Ensign told the Appeal he definitely planned to return to the Carson River.
"We have to make this a regular project to see so we can see how things are going," he said. "It's the only way we can keep up with it."