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Landmark agreement settles long-standing river dispute

By MARTIN GRIFFITH,
Associated Press Writer and published online by Lahontan Valley News
September 6, 2008

RENO, Nev. (AP) - With the scenic stream flowing behind them, officials from Nevada, California and the federal government signed a landmark agreement that settles a century-plus-old dispute over the Truckee River's water.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne joined local and state officials at the signing ceremony Saturday for the Truckee River Operating Agreement. The complex document allocates the river's waters between the two states, and balances the interests of urban users, downstream farmers and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

"I'm so happy that President Bush signed off on it," Reid told a crowd of about 400 at a downtown Reno park. "It's an example of what teamwork and bipartisanship can accomplish."

The Truckee flows more than 100 miles from the California side of Lake Tahoe to its terminus at Pyramid Lake on Nevada's high desert, about 30 miles northeast of Reno.

Under the agreement, California will get two-thirds of Lake Tahoe's water to Nevada's one-third, while Nevada will receive 90 percent of the Truckee's water to California's 10 percent. It also calls for Nevada to get 80 percent of the Carson River's water to California's 20 percent.

The two states approved an interstate compact on the Truckee's waters in the early 1970s, but it was never ratified by Congress. Kempthorne hailed the new agreement, saying it was similar to ones reached in recent years over the Colorado and Snake rivers. He stressed that no one surrendered any water rights under the latest deal.

"This day is part of a new day in the West - a day when step by step, agreement by agreement we resolve all the bitter water disputes in the new spirit of cooperation and partnership," he said.

The deal stemmed from Reid-sponsored legislation passed by Congress in 1990 that directed both states, the U.S., the tribe and the Reno area's water purveyor to settle their differences over the river.

Lawsuits over the Truckee spanning back to the 1800s gave it a reputation for being one of the West's most litigated rivers. Under the settlement, the amount of drought water storage for the Reno area will triple, and Reno, Sparks and Washoe County will provide water rights to improve water quality in the lower Truckee. The river system is the Reno area's only water source.

Officials said the agreement will improve conditions for the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout and endangered cui-ui fish, as well as for Nevada wetlands. It also will enhance recreational opportunities in both states.

A final environmental study by the U.S. Department of the Interior and California Department of Water Resources found no significant adverse impacts from the agreement. The document concluded the settlement would provide a major boost to the river's water quality and fishery.

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