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Ranchers meet with officials

Sheila Gardner

One month after the raging Carson River ripped through the Valley’s irrigation and levee systems, farmers and ranchers gathered to hear the latest from federal officials about when the system might be back to normal.

State Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen convened an informal summit Sunday night of state federal, and county officials and users of the river including ranchers, farmers and the Washoe Tribe.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook and I didn’t have any answers,” said Jacobsen, who has represented Douglas County in the Nevada Legislature for 34 years.

Jacobsen said he and Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville Ranchos, put the “town meeting” together in a fast, furious manner.”

“We wanted to set the stage to give a briefing of what’s currently going on with the river,” said Jacobsen. “We want to discuss where we are today. What the future holds, we really don’t know.”

Jacobsen restricted comment to the dozen speakers at the table.

“If I allowed everyone here to speak, we’d be here till this time tomorrow,” said Jacobsen.

One-by-one, panelists took five minutes or so to describe the work of their agencies. For the most part, the audience was reserved, applauding for rancher Arnold Settelmeyer and Brian Wallace, Washoe Tribe chairman.

Settelmeyer expressed his frustration with a deadline only two weeks away to irrigate garlic and no irrigation system in place.

“The water users feel squeezed out sometimes. We’re not allowed at the table. We maintain the levees, provide the drainage system. I disagree that the state has acquired title to the river, it only claims title. They take no responsibility, only collect fees from the ranchers. If you’re the owner, you have responsibility.”

Settelmeyer said he tried to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds on behalf of the users of the Allerman canal, but was turned down because he lacked the proper Internal Revenue Service tax identification number.

“Most of the directors (of the Allerman canal) are very upset at the lack of government progress in one month,” he said. “Two weeks from now, we have to irrigate garlic and 50 percent of the diversions are non-functional.”

Wallace pledged the tribe’s support to “stand shoulder to shoulder with the community.”

“The answer lies here in this Valley, not in Washington,” he said. “This community has always shown a willingness to work together. We’re at our best when things are the worst.”

Gail Durham, resource specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the agency has 16 projects in the works – 14 in the Carson River and two in the foothills.

“We’re getting out there as fast as we can,” she said. “I know it seems slow, if you know there’s another project to be done, put it on our list.”

Durham said four NRCS staffers are covering Carson City, Douglas, Alpine and Mono counties.

A couple of speakers questioned the wisdom of hiring out-of-area contractors to do river work.

“It’s real strange that a company from Texas comes all the way to Nevada for $60,000,” said contractor Alton Anker of Gardnerville. “I feel I’m somewhat of an expert on what type of equipment to work in the river. What do they really know?”

Anker said the contract was awarded late Sunday, Jan. 26, and “Monday morning, everyone was getting frantic phone calls from them to rent equipment. Nothing happened till Wednesday, that’s 48 hours late on a five-day contract.”

The most some speakers could offer was their telephone numbers, acknowledging that they lacked the funding or the jurisdiction to work on the river.

Pamela B. Wilcox, administrator of the state lands division, agreed that the Carson River belongs to the state.

“My office doesn’t have the staff to go out and take care of the rivers,” she said, “but we will always help you anyway we can.”

She encouraged people in the audience to press the Legislature for change.

Hettrick said he had prepared a bill draft request that would clarify who owns and controls the river.

“Government is government and has restrictions and rules. We have to work with them,” he said. “Help us change the rules.”

Following the 90-minute session, Jacobsen said he thought the town meeting was productive.

“I think it went all right,” he said. “We had to cover such a broad area. I think there is a lot of interest and there could be more public meetings to address these issues one at a time. It was productive because of the attendance.”

Before he left, Jacobsen pulled a note out of his pocket.

“Who’s going to clean up all the mess around the homes?” was the writer’s question.

“How do you answer that?” Jacobsen asked.