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Focus on water is ongoing

by Sheila Gardner

Whether the forum is in Washoe County or Washington, D.C., the people who rely on the Carson River can’t afford to ignore or fail to participate in decisions being made regarding water management.

That’s the assessment of Bob Hadfield, who took over last week as the chairman of the Carson Valley Water Authority.

“We need to understand what’s been happening with water rights, the uses of water and the needs of the growing Highway 395 urban corridor. That includes the Truckee Meadows, Carson City and Washoe County as well as Storey, Churchill and Lyon counties,” he said. “We cannot assume that we are not affected by decisions made in those counties either by their officials or overlaid by another government entity either with or without input from the communities involved.

“The only way the Carson Valley will be able to insure itself of viable water resources for agriculture as well as continuing economic development and housing growth is by understanding the importance of surface and underground water to the county as a whole.”

Hadfield, a member of the Minden Town Board, takes over from Tom Cook who represents the Gardnerville Town Water Co. The third member is County Commission Chair Jacques Etchegoyhen.

Hadfield is executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties and a former Douglas County manager.

In the past year, the water authority has taken the lead in responding to a challenge from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe regarding administration of the Alpine decree which regulates distribution of the upper Carson. The Paiute Tribe’s attorney contacted the departments of Justice and Interior in December 1996, citing alleged abuses of Carson River management to the detriment of downstream users.

That letter was met by prompt response from county and state officials who denied the allegations and said management of the Carson River is under jurisdiction of the federal court which issued the Alpine decree.

Hadfield said he fears a decision about the Carson River might be made somewhere else.

“Western water law is important. Frankly, people in the eastern United States do not understand the importance of water in the West and our different climatology. We have to be able to prove we understand our environment, our ecology and our economic survivability. I think the water authority is taking the proper steps to do that,” Hadfield said.

“My fear is that some solution will be promulgated at a higher level, and then we’ll be involved in a discussion on how to make it work rather than be part of a decision. Our forefathers developed a marvelous river system that has served us for almost 150 years. It’s just too good to ignore.”

The water authority also spent last year trying to drum up membership.

The Ranchos and Indian Hills general improvement districts declined to join, but Alpine County, Calif. supervisors recently passed a resolution of support for the water authority. Supervisor Chris Gansberg Jr. attended the water authority’s meeting last week.

“I regret that other entities have chosen not to be active members,” Hadfield said. “However, I feel certain as they become informed of the progress being made by the individuals involved with the water authority, they will understand the importance of their assisting and funding some of the basic research efforts under way.”

The authority has been successful in convincing negotiators of the Truckee River Operating Agreement to rethink the duties of the federal watermaster. Proposed new language would have tied the watermaster’s duties to the Truckee and Carson rivers, a move the water authority opposed for the potential conflict of interest.

The Truckee agreement has not been adopted, but the language was changed at the urging of the CVWA to separate the duties for the two rivers.

“I think there has been a lot accomplished in this first year,” Hadfield said. “We’re making contact with all the affected agencies at the county, state, federal and local level as can be seen by those changes being accepted by the Truckee River Operating Agreement. There has been critical recognition of the importance of the water authority, bringing together the various entities to work towards a common understanding of why the Carson Valley needs to be concerned with water settlements. I think the involvement of Alpine County strengthens that perspective.”

The water authority’s commitment is shared by Sen. Richard Bryan who sent a letter last May to the departments of Justice and Interior urging that the Alpine decree be left intact.

Bryan, too, urged the water authority to remain vigilant.

“The long-term goal of the Paiute Indians is to shut off diversion of the Truckee River at Derby Dam,” Bryan said in an interview last week from his Las Vegas office. “To the extent that they are successful will put a greater demand on the Carson. I believe the potential for expanded litigation on the Carson is a real threat. The litigation on the Truckee, the Fallon water rights – all of these issues – can move up the Carson and into the Carson Valley.

“Litigation can come to them (Carson River users) that is costly, protracted and in which the Pyramid Tribe would be in much better position financially to pursue,” Bryan said.

He urged all users of the Carson River to participate in the water authority.

“I think the Carson River water users need to be alert and prepared,” Bryan said. “If the litigation doesn’t happen, so much the better. It seems to me being vigilant is better than being unprepared.”

Members of the water authority are preparing to ask their separate boards for additional funding for 1998. Last year, the Town of Minden contributed $20,000, Gardnerville Town Water Co. $5,000 and Douglas County $80,000, with another $20,000 of county funds banked for potential litigation.

Water consultant Jim Vasey and attorney Scott Brooke have been retained by the water authority to complete a work program set out last year.

“There has been a lot accomplished in the past year,” Hadfield said. “I think we have assembled a team of experts who, fortunately for us, are intimately familiar with our community. We haven’t had to rely on outside experts, which is to our advantage.”

Vasey is compiling maps of all the river rights and in the next few months will be back before various entities for money to complete the project. Members of the water authority expressed hope that the GIDs who declined full membership would be willing to contribute to part of the work program.

Support is also sought from the agriculture industry.

“I think this effort is bringing together the agriculture community and various towns and the county as a forum for dialogue that can have other benefits,” Hadfield said. “We can help one another to understand how important it is that we don’t accidentally disrupt the Alpine irrigation system.

“Just as we all have concern to maintain the quality of water at Lake Tahoe and Topaz, it’s not good enough to think that we just live in one particular basin and don’t need to be concerned for the whole Valley.”

The Record-Courier E-mail: rc@tahoe.com

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