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Claims on Carson River water may be settled within 5 years

by Christy Chalmers, staff writer

They’ve got willing buyers, willing sellers and money in the bank.

If all goes well, claims to enough water for irrigating 6,500 acres along the lower Carson River could be settled within five years.

The program is being overseen by the Carson Water Subconservancy District, which covers the Carson River basin in Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Churchill counties. District officials have spent 15 months developing the program, which was approved as Assembly Bill 380 at the end of the 1999 state legislative session.

“It’s kind of neat to see everyone coming together,” said Ed James, manager of the Subconservancy district. “It’s been a lot of work by a lot of different agencies.”

James said up to $9 million will be provided to purchase and retire water rights to 6,500 acres of land in the Newlands Project area, which is located along the lower Carson in Churchill County.

The program could settle more than 2,500 lawsuits pending over water use in the Fallon area. Farmers have been targeted for years by representatives for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which wants more water for Pyramid Lake.

Farmers in the Fallon area use Carson River water as well as water diverted from the Truckee River, which feeds Pyramid Lake.

Under the AB 380 program, disputed rights will be purchased and retired, sending the water back to its original river source. Holders of rights that aren’t in dispute can also participate.

The Subconservancy District board approved the program Sept. 20, though board members had some questions about a $100-per-acre fee sellers would have to pay to keep liens from being recorded against the water.

James estimated more than 100 water rights holders with 1,000 to 2,000 acres worth of water have expressed interest in selling their holdings through the program.

“There are a lot of small (holders) out there who would like to get this taken care of,” he said. “Once the package gets to us and we’ve approved it, my goal is a less-than-two-week turnaround.”

He said the district will pay $1,600 per acre for water that comes from the Carson River and $3,200 per acre for Truckee River water. The federal government will provide an initial $1.37 million appropriation, with more to come as future sales are approved.

While the program relieves pressure on lower Carson River water, it’s not the final answer to water wars along the river.

“We’ll still have to remain eternally vigilant,” said Jacques Etchegoyhen, a Douglas County commissioner who serves on the Subconservancy Board. “The key is that the federal government used to take water rights. At least now they’re compensating (the owners) for them.”

As approved, AB 380 called for the state to pay $4 million, the federal government $7 million and Sierra Pacific $2.5 million. The buyout process is expected to take five years.