As the winter moves along, the outlook has become a bleak and dry picture for Nevada.
On Thursday, U.S. Department of Agriculture designated nine counties in the Silver State as primary natural disaster areas due to the drought.
The counties are as follows: Churchill, Lyon, Lander, Mineral, Nye, Pershing, Washoe, Clark and Humboldt.
“Our hearts go out to those Nevada farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling Nevada producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”
Due to the drought, ranchers and farmers in Douglas, Esmeralda, Elko, Eureka, Lincoln, Storey, White Pine and Carson City qualify for “natural disaster assistance because their counties are contiguous,” according to the USDA’s statement.
In addition, farmers and ranchers in one county each in Arizona and Idaho, eight in California and three in Oregon also qualify for assistance.
As a result of the drought, the USDA said all qualified farm operations in designated areas are eligible for low-interest emergency loans from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. Those who apply must meet eligibility requirements.
“I’m sure that declaration (by the USDA) comes as relief in economic terms for all of our farmers,” said Truckee-Carson Irrigation District Project Manager Rusty Jardine. “It doesn’t fill the reservoir.”
In Churchill County, meanwhile, Jardine said this winter is worse than last year’s.
“It’s looking pretty dry,” he added. “It’s worse because we were able to start last year with more water in storage.”
Water storage at Lahontan Reservoir is down and with the grim weather forecasts for February and March the district faces numerous challenges.
Jardine said the Board of Directors will discuss at its next several meetings when to open the water season. There are two avenues the district can take, Jardine said.
One is to open the season early and allow farmers and ranchers access to the runoff from the limited snowpack in the Sierra Mountains.
The other option is to start the season later and try to stretch the water for as long as possible.
“That’s not an easy thing to talk about, especially in a short season like this,” Jardine said. “We will be talking about that at each board meeting until we start.”
Another obstacle for the district concerns hydroelectric power. Since the expectations are Lahontan will not be near capacity, the amount of water running through hydroelectric generators will decrease.
As a result, less power will be generated, which also hits TCID’s pocket book. The power plants are the district’s main source of income.
Compounding the issue, however, is maintenance. The Truckee Canal, ditches and numerous lines throughout the Newlands Project require regular maintenance in addition to costlier issues facing TCID such as recoating the penstock at Lahontan Dam.
“The maintenance side doesn’t ever stop for us,” Jardine said. “So, this is a perfect storm for us if you consider it that way. We are holding out hope for a miracle March.”
He said updates will be posted on the district’s website and added if any water right holders have questions or concerns to call TCID.