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Time for state to set lands policy

by Sheila Gardner

The Carson Valley Water Authority is down to its last $1,000, and that, says Chairman Bob Hadfield, is indicative of what’s happening across the state and nation as local entities give up or lose interest in the battle to protect their resources from federal interference.

“There’s no sense of urgency,” Hadfield said after Tuesday’s meeting. “People have to understand this is a war, and we don’t have many allies on our side.”

Hadfield – who also serves on the Minden Town Board and is executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties – often finds himself in the role of stand-up guy for Nevada.

He’s equally at home meeting in an anteroom of the CVIC Hall in Minden or in the Washington, D.C., offices of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Carol Browner, lobbying on behalf of Fallon residents wondering how to pay for the new, stringent water quality standards.

“I think I am fortunate that I deal on a federal, state and local level. I’m involved in a lot of national activities which deal with the whole issue of so-called ‘smart growth’ – watershed protection, Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for water, wastewater,” he said.

From his vantage point, Hadfield sees the federal government “ratcheting up” regulations that he fears will choke the life out of a state like Nevada where 87 percent of the land is under federal management.

“Nevada is particularly vulnerable,” he said. “There is no ability to grow, you can’t expand. We will have nothing but a rich tradition of being a ‘feel good, recreation, non-use playground’ for the rest of the country.”

n Dialogue, policy are keys. The key to resolving the issues is dialogue and policy, Hadfield said. In April, NACO completed a report on “Reviving Nevada’s Rural Economies,” which will be discussed at a state lands division meeting in Reno on Oct. 8.

“The primary conclusion of the rural economies report is that public lands are a dominant feature of rural Nevada and there is no state policy regarding public lands,” he said. “We’re working very hard with the administration and will be continuing to work with the governor to establish what the state’s role is.”

State policy is crucial Hadfield said, because smaller government entities like the county or the water authority are outshouted or outmaneuvered at the national level..

“Something we’ve seen in the absence of state policy is that agreements get made at the local level with the best of intentions. But they get overturned at the national level. The state has standing where the local governments don’t,” he said.

NACO’s ongoing crusade is to convince the federal government to free up nearly 3 million acres of Nevada land which bureaucrats deemed unsatisfactory for wilderness designation in 1991, but remain off limits to the public.

“That’s 2.7 million acres just stuck in limbo for eight years,” Hadfield said. “When you think that somebody in Los Angeles doesn’t even have a clue what an acre is, this area is bigger than New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island combined.”

Hadfield said residents need to stay alert to the federal pressure which restricts the use of land.

“Because of the preponderance of public land in this state, and the proliferation of small water companies and small communities, there is a huge collective impact coming and it will affect our lives. It will affect the availability of water resources and use of land for development,” he said. “There is still the move for acquisition of public land going on in Nevada. We only have 10 or 11 percent available for private use now. If we overlay these restrictions – even if the public ownership doesn’t increase – public use of the land will decrease.

“People who live here have the right to an economic future,” he said. “What is the sense of community here? I question the idea that we have to have booming business to survive. I don’t think it bodes well for small businesses. It’s the small businessman who shows up at the Chamber of Commerce, who is concerned with traffic in downtown Minden. This notion that bigger is better has to stop.”

n Dwindling funds. Meanwhile, the water authority hopes to get a little farther along on a water rights mapping project before running out of money to pay consultants.

The water authority was formed by the towns of Minden and Gardnerville in 1993 to protect Carson River resources from outside interference. Activity stepped up in 1997 after the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe complained to the Justice Department over allegations of misappropriation of the Carson River.

“Anyone who believes the threat is lessened to the Carson River as related to the development of the Truckee area, the Interstate 80 corridor and whatever plans the tribes may have is simply unaware of the ease with which water can be moved and bought and sold from one region to another,” Hadfield said.

Funds dwindled from $125,000 to $1,000 after Gardnerville dropped out and the remaining members stopped financing the agency. The board continues to meet every couple of months, but attendance is sparse and ongoing funding is doubtful.

“We’ll continue to limp along as we are until other water purveyors – whether surface or underground – recognize sooner or later that because the way trends are, we’ll all be dealing with each other,” Hadfield said. “I’d much rather do it in a coordinated fashion rather than wait till we’re facing a threat.”

n Water rights. The water authority is completing a project which takes the state engineer’s water maps and breaks down and identifies water rights and how they’re applied on the lands and decreed uses within the Carson Valley.

“Historically, these disputes involve one or more successful tactics to make a broad statement about the abuse of water or the violations that allegedly are going on,” Hadfield explained. “That becomes the focal point of the discussion in the absence of having data showing how the rights are being applied. It’s essential to know what’s going on currently and what changes are taking place if the rights are sold or moved.

“A lot of the federal land acquisition activities are directed at watershed areas which happens to be where much of the rural economy is tied to and that is ranching,” Hadfield said.

“If you can’t graze on public lands, what kind of viable ranching can you do?” he asked. “The cumulative effect is to have a huge, detrimental impact on agriculture and ranching in Nevada. If you take out these people who live off the land, then you have a bunch of people who don’t have any roots, and that is really wrong.”