Ranchers keep flooding down
February 14, 2017
The January flood event was pretty hairy but it could have been a lot worse. The Carson Valley Conservation District went through channels at the state along with county, towns and improvement district levels and acquired funds to increase the channel capacity of the East Fork of the Carson River by the Washoe Tribal Ranch and old smoke shop.
This was a targeted problem area that came about from a meeting with the East Fork Fire District chief and longtime ranchers who use the river to irrigate their land. The issue was that without enough channel capacity the hospital and assisted living center were in danger of being flooded.
The river project was a success in that the hospital and assisted living center were not damaged, and that additional capacity helped to keep the river in the banks all the way through the towns and out to Cradlebaugh Bridge. To be sure there were some out-of-bank incidents that required evacuation of trailer parks and maybe some homes, but it was much less than the 2005 flood.
Here's what the county seems to forget — the ranchers in the Valley voluntarily take flood water and spread it out across their pastures. This reduced both the volume and velocity of the flood waters. Without the ranchers and their surface water conveyances and irrigation systems the Valley would be one huge puddle. That, or if the county tries to duplicate the current passive infrastructure system with a concrete and rebar replacement, it will cost millions and tear up lots of productive farm land that everybody, especially those new people from California, love and value so much.
It's too bad those people aren't willing to pay the ranchers for what they do, and they need to stop taking the ranchers' property rights because everybody living here is living on ground that was once a ranch.
The county, towns and general improvement districts should chip in and establish a fund to clean and maintain the river and all surface water conveyances. Instead we were all at a meeting where the county manager and stormwater manager told us that we were going to be charged for any impervious surface we had, but not give us credit for all the open space that soaks up the stormwater.
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Most ranchers left that meeting angry. It was an insult to the agricultural community that the county wouldn't recognize what we do during floods and storms. To add insult to injury, they want to charge us for a stormwater drainage system that is comprised of surface water conveyances that is used to irrigate our pastures. Ranchers are under no obligation to accept the stormwater drainage onto their property. What do you suppose would happen if we just shut off the stormwater and let it go? Since there is no stormwater drainage system, the county could be way, way up a creek without a paddle.
For the most part ranchers like to be left alone so they can get about doing their business. The county is going to try and shove a stormwater drainage plan and fees down our throats while they basically extort infrastructure from us if we try and develop a parcel to sell for working capital.
Douglas County has some of the most restrictive and unreasonable planning, zoning and building codes of any county in the state.
Remember most ranchers are ranching because they love it, but they aren't going to keep busting their humps while the county develops more and more restrictive, regulatory bureaucracy to prevent us from having access to our property rights bundle. Awhile back an attorney I won't name made millions for suing Douglas County for being "arbitration and capricious" in its land use decisions. The current regulatory bureaucracy at the county is setting themselves up for more of these lawsuits, and we ask each other "why are they doing this?"
We don't know the answer but we feel abused and unappreciated. So, enjoy the beautiful open solace while you can, because when water gets as expensive as land, you might see ranchers selling of the water and headed for greener pastures where there are fewer regulations and more appreciation for agriculture. If you didn't get flooded, thank a rancher.
Clarence Bur is president of the F. Heiss Land & Livestock Co.