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TCID to ask developers to improve the Truckee Canal

Christy Lattin, Lahontan Valley News
September 5, 2008

Developers planning to build homes or commercial property in the shadow of the Truckee Canal in Fernley may soon face added requirements from the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District. The TCID policy committee and board of directors meet Monday morning to develop a written policy for development along the Fernley Reach of the Truckee Canal.

Dave Overvold, TCID project manager, said the board wants to require developers to install an impermeable barrier in the section of the Truckee Canal above their development. The barrier will be a vertical concrete wall on the north bank of the canal.

Currently, developers building homes north and downhill of the Truckee Canal are required to widen the canal bank. However, after the Jan. 5 canal breach which flooded 590 homes in Fernley, the Bureau of Reclamation instituted stringent requirements for TCID before more water could be sent down the canal. The BOR owns the Newlands Project, including the Truckee Canal, but TCID operates and maintains the project.

After the flood, BOR stepped in to shut down the canal, which diverts water from the Truckee River and channels it through the Truckee Canal to Lahontan Reservoir. The federal agency limited the amount of water flowing in the Truckee Canal and established several benchmarks for TCID to meet before the flows were increased.

Now, the canal flows at a rate no more than 350 cubic feet per second, about half the maximum capacity of the canal. BOR stated it will not allow flows to increase to 750 cfs or full capacity until permanent structural modifications are made. BOR has stated it expects the permanent fixes to take several years to complete.

"If a future developer comes in and builds next to the canal, he should be made to pay some amount of money to offset the costs (of building the concrete wall)," said Cal Eilrich, former president of the Fernley Builders Association and former board member of the Builders Association of Northern Nevada. He questioned the method of building segments of the wall which may not be continuous.

"How can you piecemeal this?" he asked. Eilrich also pointed out that residential development has essentially stalled in Fernley due to the real estate downturn and it could be another five years before a big development breaks ground.

Hundreds of vacant homes remain in inventory now, Eilrich said, with 900 finished lots that have yet to be developed. Tentative maps for some developments have already been approved without the new requirements, but Eilrich wondered if TCID would seek to institute those before building begins.

Eilrich is a current Fernley councilman but he has made it clear he was speaking strictly as a former developer. He agrees the canal needs to be reinforced, but he sees it more of a public works project than an irrigation district project. He pointed out that some of worst damage from the January flood occurred a half-mile downstream from the canal breech, and that a concrete wall upstream wouldn't have helped unless it extended the entire length of the Fernley Reach.

"This is an issue that affects all citizens who live in Fernley," he said.

The TCID Policy Committee will meet Monday at 8 a.m. at the TCID board room, 2666 Harrigan Road. The TCID Board of Directors will meet at 9 a.m. to review and/or approve the policy. For the complete agendas, visit www.tcid.org.