Drought comes home to Carson Valley
October 14, 2015
Oct. 1 brought a number of firsts. It is the official first day of a new water year. It rained that day in the Valley, starting the water year off with potential as I drove to Scott Lake, by myself for the first time, because there was no 50-pound metal wheel to lug off the dam. We never opened the reservoir this year. Another first. I just drove up to see how empty the lake was and take pictures, for history.
For generations this ranch has used water from reservoirs to supplement irrigation water diverted from the West fork of the Carson River. Scott Lake is one reservoir.
There is a copy of the hand drawn, blue map, in a frame in our house signed by surveyor, Mr. Tillman, on September 1908, showing Scott Lake able to store 636 acre feet of water.
When I drove up to Scott Lake it held very little water. Dead jagged trees trunks stood as sad sentries in low water. When my sons were little we would kayak around the lake. Or swim from the dam to the island to show courage. The island proved to be just a dry hill this year. Water loss is easy to see. At Highway 88 and Centerville the two ponds are dried up. Where tulles grew and birds congregated only dry stalks stand. Washoe Lake is gone. Those wetlands provided habitat for diverse flocks of birds and mammals. This drought is disconcerting. The drought is more than asking for water in restaurants or fewer boat launches. Wells have dried up, new ones are being drilled, pumps are being lowered. Stock water tanks are showing up in fields. There is loss of wetlands.
Early spring I visited Temple Bar Marina at Lake Mead and read the notices posted there about the lake's 140-foot drop in water levels over the last decade. I had seen pictures of huge reservoirs drying up around the west. Seeing Lake Mead's shrinkage in person was a jolt. All the pictures didn't really resonate until Mead.
Then the drought came home to the duck hunter in our house when he was told the Carson Sink in Churchill county will not have water this year.
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Carson Sink is, or was, the destination of both forks of the Carson River.
And part of a huge reclamation project in the early 1900s. It is where duck hunters in our house go, to 16,000 acres of swampy wetland. This year there is no wetland.
More than 16,000 acres of dry ground. Not 600, not 1600, but 16,000 acres of missing water. There will be no ducks, coots or other migratory bird stopping for a drink.
So I took a picture of Scott Lake's low water level hoping low water will be history soon. And to encourage people to seriously giving water, climate, our environment the attention it deserves.
Stop worrying about who falls in love or who marries. Or if a woman has enough brains to decide if she needs an abortion. Stop fracking, polluting what water is left in the West. We need alternative energies that do not make us trade energy for clean water. We need to take action. And that would make a pretty picture.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.