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Support grows for Carson River water rights

Sheila Gardner

A fight to protect Carson River water from transfer to the Lahontan Reservoir gained promises of financial and moral support this week from several entities.

Carson Water Subconservancy District members, Douglas County commissioners and two general improvement districts pledged to join the effort to keep the river water in the Carson basin.

Water rights engineer Jim Vasey, representing the Carson Valley Water Authority, outlined for county commissioners Thursday the efforts of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe to get additional water from the Carson River to the Lahontan Reservoir.

“We’re in for the battle of our lives,” said Commissioner Jacques Etchegoyhen, also a director of the subconservancy district.

Scott Brooke, attorney for the Gardnerville Town Water Co., told commissioners that a prompt, coordinated response was necessary.

“We’re trying to respond promptly, to lay the groundwork for what’s to come. It’s important to have the departments of Justice and Interior on our side. We need as solid a foundation as we can.”

The issue was raised in a 19-page letter sent to Washington officials by Boulder, Colo. attorney Robert Pelcyger who is representing the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in their efforts to get additional water. Pelcyger already has begun meeting with officials in Washington.

Pelcyger claims that water from the Carson River is being wasted, diversions and deliveries are not controlled and the applicable decrees are being disregarded. He wants federal officials to look at the river’s groundwater supplies, traditionally and legally under the jurisdiction of the state.

Officials are concerned that if Pelcyger successfully challenges groundwater rights, the Carson Valley could dry up because all the water would go to the Lahontan reservoir.

“He’s challenging the way the water master administers the Alpine decree,” Vasey said. “In a subsequent letter to the state engineer, Pelcyger’s tone is very combative.”

Members of the commission and the subconservancy district pointed out that in representing the Paiute Tribe, Pelcyger has unlimited federal funds at his disposal.

“Our income tax is paying for his actions,” said Commissioner Bernie Curtis. “We need to attack his assumptions that aren’t true.”

Alpine County Supervisor Leonard Turnbeaugh, who attended Wednesday’s subconservancy district meeting, said his board was very concerned.

“When something is achieved in Nevada, it comes across to California,” Turnbeaugh said.

The subconservancy district directors agreed to write a letter of support for the Carson River users as well as allocate funds for what promises to be a lengthy and expensive legal battle.

“What most concerns me is that this not only could affect the upper basin of the Carson River,” said Etchegoyhen, “this has potential ramifications to rewrite western water law.”

The Carson Valley Water Authority, which is spearheading the response to the Paiute challenge, meets Feb. 18 at the Gardnerville Town Water Co. In addition to the county and subconservancy district support, the water authority has picked up Gardnerville Ranchos and Indian Hills general improvement districts as members in addition to a coalition of ranchers and other water users.

“The Pyramid Lake Paiutes have managed to unite all the ranchers in the Carson Valley for the first time in history,” said David Hussman, who has been meeting with the agriculture community.