Concept shouldn’t require a shovel to the head
Just to the south of Jobs Peak there is a saddle shaded from the southern summer sun that hides a patch of snow. If that snow last ’til the 4th of July old timers say it is a good water year. This year the patch was visible ’til after the 4th. And the water conservation district reports snow pack was 100 percent. Still, doesn’t mean you should steal water.
Carson Water Subconservancy District has an excellent document online explaining the Carson River’s importance titled, “Carson River Watershed, Our Lifeline in the Desert, Adaptive Stewardship Plan.” It is a document prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Nevada Division-Water Quality Planning. And for a government document it is pretty interesting reading.
It doesn’t, of course, contain the actual story of a man who was supposedly pulling boards out of another man’s irrigation box one night, was discovered and clobbered over the head with a shovel by the owner of the irrigation box. The owner is found not guilty of murder because he was protecting his rights to water.
Government documents just do not get that exciting. And no one can actually remember anymore where they first heard that story, who told it, or who was the water thief. But, the Carson River watershed document does clearly state the importance and division of water to ranchers, miners and the general population along the Carson River.
The legal, and probably physical battles, that were waged over water in this area were eventually settled in a cohesive document, the Alpine Decree, in 1929. In this Decree, water right priorities are dated and acre feet measurements assigned.
Meaning one can not take water willy nilly out of the river whenever they want, where ever they want, for as long as they want.
Having the right to take water from the Carson River is established in a priority assigned to property and a rate is assessed by the U.S. District Court Water Master to whom we pay a yearly fee for our priorities.
Simply purchasing property along, near or by a stream in the Carson River watershed does not mean you have rights to take, hold, impound, or divert water. Properties in Carson Valley have been sold stripped of water rights. You may not have the right to build a pond, divert a stream or create a “water feature” on your property simply because you see water passing by your window.
Passing water may be required stock water to keep animals alive downstream. It may be necessary water to keep crops growing to feed livestock upstream. Or released water illegally retained could damage hay cut in a field near you greatly impacting a ranchers’ economic wellbeing.
A ditch rider for the East Fork of the Carson river looks for unlawful use of river water. This ditch rider does not necessarily have a cape, mask and musket like an old time hero. But none the less, every day of irrigation season the rider checks the irrigation water course looking for “disguised” pipes unlawfully siphoning water, making a patch of tale tell green in the middle of brown. Or closes an irrigation gate that may have been accidentally, just partially, hopefully not noticeably, opened out of turn.
The West Fork of the Carson River has a person we unglamorously call the Water Master. He tells us, from monitored river flows, when we need to go on rotation, how much water we will receive for the few hours we are entitled to it, according to Decree. All pretty civilized.
Still, this being the “Wild West,” men have been known to take wild swings with their shovels to stop water thieves. But, no one can remember anymore who that was, or when they did it, thank goodness.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.