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New, tough water quality regulations coming.

by Sheila Gardner

Fish will always have friends in high federal places, farmers may not be so fortunate.

That was the assessment presented Wednesday to the Carson Water Subconservancy District by Tom Porta, bureau chief of the state department of Water Quality Planning.

He told the board that new water quality regulations are being formulated in Washington, and the best way for farmers, ranchers and other water users to protect themselves is to be proactive.

“There are 45 lawsuits in 32 states. Fortunately, as of today, Nevada is not being sued,” Porta said. “Surrounding states are, and the courts are handing down Draconian regulations.”

Most of the rulings favor environmental interests, Porta said.

“We assess 1,700 miles of water in Nevada,” Porta said. “Of those, 53 percent are meeting water quality standards, 40 percent are marginal and 7 percent are fully not meeting the standards.”

In the West, Porta said, 8 to 12 percent of the rivers are “impaired,” or fail to attain or maintain applicable water quality standards.

Water is impaired if there is a natural or man-made barrier to fish passage – “anything that might impede the fish’s progress,” Porta said.

“If the water is designated for fish and the fish can’t spawn, it’s impaired,” Porta said.

That raised a concern from subconservancy district manager Ed James.

“Reaches in the Carson River historically have had fish,” he said. “If we have to maintain a fishery, they could come in all of sudden and say those diversions have to come out,” he said.

Porta said the water quality standards are being prepared by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

He said the EPA is being very tight-lipped about what the new regulations are because they fear lawsuits.

“I told them they are going to be sued anyway, so they might as well tell us what they say now,” he said.

Porta urged agriculture interests to stay ahead of the game by continuing voluntary “best management practices” to protect the Carson River.

“The EPA is a little more flexible if you’re doing something,” he said. “Lawsuit-wise, the measures are less Draconian if you can show you are doing something. The reason I am here tonight is to start getting people to be more proactive.”

Bob Milz, chairman of the district, said he hopes the government will provide funding along with the new regulations.

“If they’re going to mandate these regulations, they sure as hell better give us the money,” Milz said.

Dan Kaffer, coordinator of the Western Nevada Resource Conservation and Development Area, said the agency operates the Environmental Quality Improvement Program which allocates $150,000 to fund best management practices on the Carson River.

n Urban runoff. “We don’t know the impact of urban runoff on water quality, how much different communities contribute,” Kaffer said. “I hate to see agriculture get a black eye all the time.”

Porta said urban runoff is recognized as a problem.

“Look at the Truckee River,” Porta said. “It comes in pretty clean and leaves pretty dirty.”

Subconservancy district director Kay Bennett said the entities along the Carson River were ahead of the regulations thanks to contributions by the conservation districts and other agencies.

“As we move down the road with this (water quality regulations), we will appreciate as we have never, ever done before the conservation districts and Natural Resource Conservation Services and the cooperation from landowners,” Bennett said, who represents Carson City on the water district.