A new push is under way to designate the Carson River in Nevada as "wild and scenic."
Members of the California Wilderness Coalition met with Alpine County and U.S. Forest Service officials recently to discuss the possibility. The group asked for information regarding the status of the river and potential conflicts it may run into with local and state officials in Nevada.
The river, which begins in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness in Alpine County, runs through Douglas County, Carson City, Lyon County and ends in Churchill County. It is a major water source for agriculture and recreation.
Tina Andolina, a conservation associate for the California Wilderness Coalition, said the agency is asking for protection of 57 miles of the river going into Nevada because of its recreational value. Andolina said the economy along the river depends on rafters and fishermen being able to enjoy the free-flowing body of water.
Bob Anderson, executive director of the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce, said the California side of the river was designated wild and scenic 10 years ago. Anderson said about 10,000 rafters use the river every year, and a market survey is being developed to analyze the economic value of this use.
Anderson said the designation would keep 10 miles on the Nevada side free-flowing. He said it would help with Alpine County's plan to make the trophy trout stretch of the river, below Markleeville, into a world-class fishing spot.
"This kind of wild and scenic designation complements that kind of recreational use," he said.
Andolina said gaining the designation is a political process and relies on Forest Service recommendation to Congress. She said the coalition will continue to write letters to Forest Service officials and state representatives.
"You take enough people down that river then they will see how beautiful it is and how much it deserves to be protected," Andolina said.
During a stop in Douglas County Aug. 23, U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., was briefed by Douglas County Manager Dan Holler about the push for the federal designation.
Holler said the wild and scenic proposal would bring into question irrigation and recreation concerns, as well as private property rights. He said concerns need to be recognized by means of a region-wide study on the feasibility of wild and scenic status.
"We want a study, with the full amount of resources put into it," he said. "We ask that any decision at a congressional level be put on hold until we do an objective study."
Ensign said he would like more information on the proposal and urged the county to provide his staff with information. He also encouraged officials to contact U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
The freshman senator called the Carson River "calm and docile" when it's considered someone else's river, but when it runs through Nevada, it is a source of many uses. This is not the first time wild and scenic status has been talked about for the Carson River.
In 1999, several river groups based in California and Washington, D.C., proposed that all 50 states have at least one free-flowing river with wild and scenic status. The groups targeted the Carson River for Nevada.
The problem with the status is the river is a main source for agriculture in Northern Nevada, said Ed James, director of the Carson Water Subconservancy District.
"The intentions are probably good, especially if you're looking at the East Fork. But the status would prohibit things that would be advantageous for the overall watershed," James said.
The subconservancy has been looking at ways to help the river through years of drought and has developed models that would allow the river to flow continuously, James said. Federal protection would stop any attempt to make improvements to the river, James said.
"It would basically cut off potential avenues," James said. "But we want to get people involved with this and at least start talking about the river's future. Does wild and scenic meet the needs or are there other avenues that are better?"
Gary Schiff, Carson District ranger for the Forest Service, said because the river has generated discussion over wild and scenic status, it's been managed as if it were wild and scenic.
"At this moment we want to take a slow approach, gauge the situation and work with local folks to see if there is support for this," he said.