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debate contiues over alpine in district

by Christy Chalmers

Douglas County leaders aren’t opposed to letting Alpine County, Calif., into the Carson Water Subconservancy District.

They’re just not heralding it.

The Subconservancy District includes Carson City, Douglas, Lyon and Churchill counties and addresses Carson River watershed management. Churchill County, where the river ends, was added in 1999 and that expansion spurred talk of including Alpine County, Calif., where the river’s two forks originate.

Lawyers for the Subconservancy District and Alpine County have been talking, and both sides agree Alpine is a logical addition. But Subconservancy district manager Ed James said the leaders of the Nevada counties want assurance they won’t surrender their power, give up water rights or create an administrative nightmare like the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

“They have questions. They want to know what the true benefits would be,” said James.

“Everyone says they want to see the actual language” that will create what would be an unprecedented bi-state river management group, he said.

Many of those questions were raised April 6 when James and Charlie Lawson, a Lyon County representative who serves on the 11-member Subconservancy District board, addressed the Douglas County Commission.

Lawson says he understands the concerns.

“There’s no carte blanche,” he said. “Nobody wants to go into this blind.”

Especially Douglas County leaders, who say they want proof of what Alpine’s membership could accomplish.

“What are the true benefits? Change for change’s sake doesn’t excite me at all,” said Commissioner Don Miner. “It has to have a significant public benefit.”

The Douglas commissioners also want to know how much expanding the Subconservancy again would dilute the county’s power. Before Churchill was added, Douglas representatives occupied five of the nine seats on the board. With Churchill, they still have five of 11 seats, but an Alpine addition could mean a five of 13 ratio.

James and Lawson said a bi-state board could mean more power for the district and a better chance to defend the Carson River’s water from outside interests, like thirsty California communities.

“If we have unity, we tend to have a better voice,” said James.

“I think we could forestall any overt actions by the federal government to try to control that water,” said Lawson. “If we do this voluntarily and we’re all talking off the same page, the federal people are going to back off.”

James said some of the counties’ questions have already been answered. The Alpine Decree, a federal decision on water management, will continue to govern use of the Carson River. And while the Subconservancy District can collect taxes to support itself and its work, it doesn’t actually have any regulatory power, so a TRPA situation is unlikely.

Douglas Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, who also serves on the Subconservancy board, said the support of Carson Valley ranchers will be crucial because they will want assurance Alpine’s membership won’t threaten their water claims.

James said any agreement adding Alpine will address all of those issues. Action isn’t likely before 2001, when Nevada’s Legislature meets again and a bill could be sought to expand the district.