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Lake Tahoe area cloud seeding short of cash

With winter approaching and governments struggling through fiscal difficulty, researchers are in search of money needed to squeeze a little extra moisture from snowstorms. The Desert Research Institute in September secured a promise of up to $100,000 from the Western Regional Water Commission to fund a cloud-seeding program for the Lake Tahoe area. In late October, the DRI plans to seek a larger contribution from the Truckee River Fund, which is administered by the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.

It's part of an effort to continue a 25-year-old program nearly killed when the 2009 Legislature pulled state funding that was going to the DRI. A last-minute pitch to water purveyors saved the program last winter, and now officials are trying to line up the money needed during the winter of 2010-11.

Truckee River pact challenged

By Jeff DeLong • jdelong@rgj.com • November 29, 2009

The Truckee River Operating Agreement, more than 20 years in the making, was signed in September 2008 by officials from the federal government, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the states of Nevada and California and the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.

What U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., described as "truly landmark legislation" was celebrated as an end to protracted fights over one of the country's most litigated rivers.

Now, Churchill County, the city of Fallon and the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District are back in court, trying to block the agreement's final implementation.

"It is a disappointment, but it's not a surprise," said Mike Carrigan, chair of the water authority, jointly composed of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County.

The agreement, Carrigan said, is "really important" for the future of the Truckee Meadows, particularly for the area's ability to withstand a protracted drought.

Critics counter they are simply looking out for their own future and precious water supplies.

The agreement is designed to permanently replace an antiquated and inflexible water management system that favors farmers, small hydroelectric plants and defunct paper mills.

Instead, it allows for a more flexible system of storing and using water from Truckee River reservoirs, better protecting the Reno-Sparks area from drought, nurturing threatened fish and guaranteeing recreational opportunities.

Allen Biaggi, Nevada's director of conservation and natural resources, said TROA "brings the river's management into the 21st century."

But officials representing the Lahontan Valley area view the agreement as a threat to their future. They filed suit in U.S. District Court last spring against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation seeking to block the agreement's implementation.

TCID, Fallon and Churchill County also are opposing other key technical changes needed to implement the agreement. A hearing in one such case is scheduled before the Nevada State Engineer next month.

The lawsuit states the agreement could directly harm downstream users of the Truckee River.

"Changes in reservoir storage activities as well as conversion of agricultural land and water to industrial and municipal uses entailed by (the agreement) would directly result in shortages of water available ... with potentially disastrous consequences," the lawsuit says.

The agreement would divert water critical to farmers and adversely impact groundwater recharge in Lahontan Valley, said Rusty Jardine, a deputy district attorney for Churchill County. Jardine said the environmental impact report prepared for the agreement inadequately addresses potential impacts.

"We don't want any water that belongs to someone else," said Michael Mackedon, an attorney representing the city of Fallon. "We simply want to protect the water that belongs to us. It's very simple."

A September answer to the lawsuit filed by the U.S. attorney argues the challenge lacks merit, asking the federal court to dismiss it.

"Basically, the EIS is adequate and the regulation is not in violation of law and ought to be upheld," said Gordon DePaoli, counsel for the water authority who is handing the agreement.

DePaoli said the legal challenges will result in significant delay in the agreement's implementation, even if the agreement's supporters prevail in court.

"It will depend if there are appeals, but I think we're certainly looking at all of next year," DePaoli said, adding that might be overly optimistic.

Water users craft Truckee Canal White Paper

Lahontan Valley News, December 5, 2009
LVN Correspondent

ENLARGE FALLON - In an effort to restore complete water flows in the Truckee Canal and to facilitate its repair, a group of water users banded together to research, draft and publish the Truckee Canal White Paper.

A “white paper,” often used for political or technical subjects, is an authoritative report used to address topical issues, inform readers and help people make decisions about that topic.

“We wanted to educate the general public so they would all have factual information,” said Bill Shepard, a member of the working group that wrote the paper. “The idea was the paper would be researched and nothing was printed that was controversial or one-sided — it just presented the facts.”

Shepard approached the Truckee Carson Irrigation District's board in March to discuss writing a white paper to show residents of Fernley and Fallon — along with elected officials — the benefits the canal brings to both communities. While the TCID board saw the merit in the white paper, they felt the report needed to come from an outside source.

TCID holds the operations and management contract to operate the Newlands Irrigation Project, which includes the Truckee Canal that diverts water from the Truckee River to the Lahontan Reservoir for use in the Lahontan Valley.

The Truckee Canal breached during the early morning hours of Jan. 5, 2008, in Fernley, sending a torrent of water into residential neighborhoods and flooding 590 homes.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the Bureau of Reclamation — the agency which owns the Newlands Project — mandated flows in the Truckee Canal be cut in half until the canal is permanently repaired. However, the decreased water flows are dramatically affecting the agricultural communities in both Lyon and Churchill counties, which rely upon water from both the small Carson River and the larger Truckee River.

“The canal is an asset which has stabilized the erratic flows of the Carson River and made the agriculture industry something that is fairly constant and steady in the economic scheme of the communities of Fallon and Fernley,” said TCID Board President Ernie Schank.

The Lahontan Valley Environmental Alliance, whose mission is to protect the natural resources and the economic vitality in the valley, formed a working group and helped guide the creation of the paper. The working group included LVEA Executive Director Erica Behimer, LVEA Chairwoman Jeanette Dahl, private water users Shepard and group chairwoman Sonya Johnson and TCID board member Bob Oakden.

Shepard said the group met once or twice a month and the paper went through 54 revisions. Research assistance was provided by numerous entities including TCID, Churchill County, the city of Fallon and Naval Air Station Fallon. All entities received drafts and their corrections were incorporated, Shepard said, adding the final draft was reviewed by six attorneys.

While the final figures are not yet available, Shepard estimated the cost of the white paper totals over $8,000. Behimer confirmed that both Churchill County and the city of Fallon contributed $2,000 to the project, and Shepard said thousands of dollars were donated by farmers and ranchers in the valley.

The group printed 5,000 hard copies of the paper, which is actually an attractive 16-page glossy magazine, and is in the process of distributing them. Each of Nevada's congressional representatives received a copy, along with state legislators and elected officials in Lyon and Churchill counties. Schank personally presented the white paper to Michael Conner, the Commissioner of Reclamation, at the recent National Water Resources meeting.

Schank said he is pleased with the final product and the fact that everything is footnoted and referenced, and that it takes the “politics” out of the Truckee Canal.

“I believe the white paper helps a reader understand just how important an asset the Truckee Canal is to each resident of the Fallon and Fernley areas,” Schank said.

Shepard said the group that wrote the paper won't see the direct results of the paper, but he hopes the unbiased facts in the paper help garner support for farmers who wish to see the canal permanently repaired in a more timely fashion.

“We want to repair it,” Shepard said. “We've paid for anything that's ever been done in the project, and we want to repair it.”

Construction of Derby Dam on the Truckee River and the Truckee Canal began on the project in 1903 with a loan from the federal government. A letter from the BOR in 1997 states TCID — which operates on fees collected from water users — fully repaid the cost of the canal and dam construction.

“The Newlands Project's, whose first phase was the building of Derby Dam and the Truckee Canal, construction costs have been repaid by the water right owners and continues to be an asset to the U.S. Treasury by the income tax revenues from the agriculture, other agricultural-related industries, and the people that are here as a result of the project being built,” Schank said.

Schank also hopes the paper can spur the federal government into expediting the repair schedule so flows in the canal can return to normal. TCID submitted a proposed permanent fix for the Truckee Canal to the BOR in October 2008, nine months after the canal breached. TCID's two-page proposal included costs and how the district could accomplish the work.

“BOR sent a letter poking holes in our plan and insisted it was premature,” Schank said. “It seems they forgot they were the ones who suggested such a remedy. That is what led to some in the community suggesting the writing of the white paper.

“Now the BOR is spending $2.5 million, which was in an appropriations bill earlier this spring, which earmarked that the money be spent in evaluating and preparing a plan for repairs. The drilling work has been completed. We are told the cores will be evaluated and an engineered plan formulated by the BOR.

An Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement will have to be formulated and the process is most likely two to three years.”

Kenneth Parr, BOR Carson City Area Manager, could not be reached for comment about the repair timeline, but he told the audience at TCID's March water users meeting the study would take three years to complete.

Shepard said he was proud of all the people and agencies that helped make the white paper a reality, a sentiment reiterated by Schank.

“It is a good example of many people coming together with an idea and, with some hard work, presenting to the public a united front as to the importance of the Truckee Canal to the communities of the Newlands Project,” Schank said. “I thank all those who were involved, and give hats off to the LVEA for providing the leadership by doing what they were formed to do: protect environmental assets of the Fallon and Fernley communities.”

The Truckee Canal White Paper can be found at the following locations:

· Churchill County Library

· Churchill County Museum

· Churchill County Administrative Building

· LVEA office

· Fernley City Hall

· Fernley Public Library

· LVEA Website: www.lvea.org ;

Washoe water authority might raise rates soon, citing customer drop

By Jeff DeLong • jdelong@rgj.com • January 22, 2009

Reacting to the slumping economy and the prospect of a continuing drought, directors of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority might decide to increase water rates for the first time in four years. The board voted Wednesday to initiate discussions that could have a rate increase in place by June.

No numbers have been prepared, but officials said the increase likely would be a low single-digit percentage, possibly increasing monthly water bills by $1 to $2. The board of elected officials and appointed members can raise rates on its own authority.

Officials said the money is needed because of increased operating and maintenance costs of $5.7 million during the past four years.

Another major factor is the sick economy. The water authority has experienced "significant reductions" in investment income because of economic and market conditions and decreasing water sales as the number of vacant homes and businesses expands across the region, chief financial officer Jeff Tissier said.

With growth stagnant in the Truckee Meadows, the utility has no increase in new water connections and resulting revenue.

"The last two years, we haven't seen any," he said. "There pretty much haven't been any connections. We have no idea what customer growth is going to be like, if (any) at all." With a possible third straight dry year looming, Truckee River flow is expected to drop and further diminish income from the utility's hydroelectric plants, Tissier said.

Truckee Carson Irrigation District indicted

Truckee Carson Irrigation District indicted
The Associated Press
Posted: 12/03/2008

RENO, Nev.—A federal grand jury in Reno has indicted the Truckee Carson Irrigation District and four of its employees for allegedly falsifying records to secure additional water supplies from the U.S. government.
The four indicted include David Overvold, project manager for the irrigation district based in Fallon. He and the three others are charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, falsification of records, false claims and false statements.

U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott in Sacramento says they allegedly inflated data from 2000 though 2005 regarding the efficiency of the district's water deliveries as part of a scheme to secure additional water credits from the bureau to boost supplies primarily for Nevada farmers and ranchers.

Panther Valley embezzlement case could reach $2 million in losses

By FRANK X. MULLEN JR. • fmullen@rgj.com • December 21, 2008

A former treasurer of the Panther Valley Water Users Association is being investigated in connection with siphoning water for profit and embezzling as much as $2 million, according to investigators and utility officials.

The man allegedly sold water rights that the company didn't have to developers and is being investigated in connection with construction of an illegal valve that siphoned at least $140,000 worth of water by bypassing the Truckee Meadows Water Authority mainline meter. He allegedly took out a bank loan and bought heavy equipment and other items with water company funds without the knowledge of the company's board of directors, officials said.

Although the company's board is required to approve purchases of more than $100, the treasurer was able to misappropriate hundreds of thousands of dollars unbeknownst to other company officials, according to company documents and board members.

Washoe County sheriff's detectives confirmed they have been looking into the financial activities of former Panther Valley water utility treasurer Robert Klein since May, but no arrest warrants have been issued.

Klein could not be reached for comment.

"Mr. Klein has fled the area and this is an ongoing case," Detective Morgan Jaeck said. "Once there's a warrant, we'll seek him out then. It's a complicated case. This guy had carte blanche for eight years."

Jaeck said the case involves a tangled web of documents, with still many records to receive.

"We're not sure how long it will take to get to the end of this road," he said.

Illegal valve installed

The missing money came to light after Truckee Meadows Water Authority engineers in August 2006 discovered a partially open valve that allowed water to bypass a TMWA meter that keeps track of deliveries to about 400 Panther Valley customers. The engineers shut down and "double locked" the valve, officials said, but by December 2006, Panther Valley's metered water use was again lower than expected.

In September 2007, after monitoring the area's water use for months, TMWA workers checked the pressure on the water lines feeding Panther Valley. They discovered water was flowing beyond the supposedly closed and locked valve. They dug down to the main line and found the TMWA valve had been disconnected, replaced with a dummy valve, and someone had installed an illegal wide-open valve below ground next to the disabled device.

That meant that for nearly a year, Panther Valley customers were paying their local water company for the water they used, but TMWA was paid only for the small percentage of water that flowed to Panther Valley through its main meter. TMWA officials said the Panther Valley utility eventually owed $250,000 in fees and late charges for water that bypassed the meter.

"In 20 years, it's the most elaborate bypass I've ever seen," TMWA distribution manager Pat Nielson said. "We were truly shocked when we dug up that dummy valve and found the illegal one.

"(The illegal valve) probably cost $1,200 to $1,400 and was buried in the ground, while the dummy valve at ground level looked fine. The problem was (the perpetrator) got greedy. If that underground valve was only partially opened instead of wide open, I don't know how long it would have taken us to find out."

Water and money

But investigators and utility officials said the dummy valve was just a part of multiple frauds against the water company.

The Panther Valley Water Users Association, a nonprofit cooperative, was founded 46 years ago to bring water to an enclave of north valleys residents far from city water service. The company got water from Sierra Pacific and later from TMWA, the area's current water provider. The company serves about 400 customers in the Panther Valley area north of Reno and is self-regulating.

Dennis Richards, Panther Valley utility president, said TMWA informed the company in April that it owed at least $139,000 for water delivered to Panther Valley before October 2007.

Richards said Klein told him he knew nothing about any "misappropriated water."

"TMWA threatened to turn off our water, but as far as I knew, we had paid for what we received," Richards said. "But things were being kept secret by Bob (Klein). He was operating in a different reality."

He said the board treasurer usually handled all business activities and the other board members took the treasurer's word for all financial matters.

"This cooperative was founded 46 years ago by honest people and managed by honest people," Richards said. "We trusted Bob (Klein) for eight years. We took his word for everything. Nobody but board members come to our meetings, and the board members left the finances in (Klein's) hands."

As board members began looking at the association's books, Richards said, they discovered Klein allegedly sold water rights that the company did not have and made commitments to sell additional nonexistent water rights. Klein also allegedly collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in "connection fees" from developers, and those funds are no longer in the association's accounts, officials said.

Board members also found a bank loan had been taken out and equipment purchased without their knowledge.

Water officials target repairs

By Merry Thomas • Fallon Star Press • November 7, 2008

If Truckee-Carson Irrigation District officials have their way, they will replace a 10-mile segment of the Fernley canal with a new, concrete barrier this winter, according to TCID Project Director David Overvold.

"We would like to build it this winter, using our own forces," Overvold said. TCID has submitted a proposal to U.S. Bureau of Reclamation engineers and the plan is being reviewed this week by BOR engineers from Denver and Sacramento, he explained.

TCID has proposed to build a 12-foot deep, one-foot wide concrete trench along 10 miles of the canal ban, and Overvold said he is certain that locals could do the work. All they need is a nod from BOR officials. A restored canal will mean water flows can be restored to capacity, at 750 to 800 cubic feet per second, rather than the 350 cfs allowed since the breach in January.

Landmark agreement settles long-standing river dispute

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.

For entire article, please visit website.

Fernley Developers Targeted by Canal Proposal

September 5, 2008

FERNLEY, Nev. (AP) - Developers would face new requirements if they build homes or commercial buildings near the aging Truckee Canal in Fernley under a proposal being considered by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

The district board wants to require developers to install an impermeable barrier in any section of the Truckee Canal above new development.

Dave Overvold, TCID project manager, said the barrier would be a vertical concrete wall on the canal's north bank.

A Jan. 5 breach of the canal flooded about 600 Fernley homes. The 31-mile canal, operated and maintained by the irrigation district, sends water from the Truckee River to Fallon-area farmers.

Currently, developers building homes north and downhill of the Truckee Canal are required to widen the canal bank.

Fernley City Councilman Cal Eilrich, former president of the Fernley Builders Association, said he agrees the canal needs to be reinforced, but sees it as more of a public works project than an irrigation district project. He noted 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 canal through Fernley.

"This is an issue that affects all citizens who live in Fernley," said Eilrich, who stressed he was speaking only as a former developer.

To read entire article, please visit website.

End of water wars

North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Editorial.
September 5, 2008

Tomorrow is a historic day in the annuals of Western states water rights.The Truckee River Operating Agreement — in progress for more than 20 years and the result of 100 years of water rights controversy — will be officially signed in a ceremony Saturday morning at Reno’s Wingfield Park.

The Truckee River flows out of Lake Tahoe in California, crosses the Nevada border near Farad, and ends in Pyramid Lake. The river, claimed by California and Nevada, has been used for recreation, water supply, hydroelectric power, irrigation, fish habitat and wetlands,among other uses.

Its water was literally fought over in the 1920s when a drought caused Lake Tahoe to fall below its natural rim. Downstream water users cut a canal into the rim to drain more water, causing angry threats and beginning the legal battles over its water. Through the years, the fight has resulted in several legal decrees establishing usage of the river’s water. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe became involved when the cui-ui fish, its historical food source, became an endangered species.

The 1990 Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act began the process to come up with a new agreement. Years and years of negotiations, research and meetings resulted in the TROA. Lake Tahoe stakeholders spent endless hours making sure the lake’s particular interests are covered, even to such items as how much water is recovered from snowmaking.

Once enacted, the TROA will replace the 1935 Truckee River Agreement, which has managed the bistate river and established rates of flow, water storage and the conditions under which Lake Tahoe could be pumped.

Now, the decades of controversy and work are culminating in this historic signing. Signing for the mandatory parties are Dirk Kempthorne, U.S. Secretary of the Interior; Ronald Tempas, of the U.S. Justice Department; Mike Chrisman, California Secretary of Resources; for Nevada, Alan Biaggi, Director of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Mervin Wright Jr. of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe; and Mike Carrigan, chair of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.

Saturday won’t be the actual end of the process — federal courts in California and Nevada must now approve it. But there is an end in sight for the embattled Truckee River.

The TROA will 1) allocate the waters of the Truckee River, Carson River, and Lake Tahoe basins between California and Nevada; 2) enhance conditions for threatened and endangered fish species; 3) increase drought protection for the Reno-Sparks area; 4) improve river water quality downstream from Sparks; 5) enhance instream flows and recreational opportunities; 6) settle long standing litigation over water rights to the Truckee River; and 7) lift a 1972 moratorium on water rights applications in the affected region.

And, hopefully, cease the battle over water.

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