Clear as mud … Nevada water interests attempt a final grab
Nevada entities may have succeeded in one final grab for water, leaving water purveyors in Truckee frustrated and upset over recent developments in the negotiations for the Truckee River Operating Agreement.
“I thought we were making great progress and then this popped up,” said Peter Holzmeister, general manager of the Truckee-Donner Public Utility District.
The Truckee Basin, which begins at River Ranch along the Truckee River and includes Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and the entire Truckee drainage area to the California and Nevada state line, was allocated 32,000 acre-feet of water in the 1990 Public Law 101-618, known as the negotiated settlement.
Divvying up water allotments
The law divided up the water of the Truckee River watershed, giving the Nevada portion of the Tahoe Basin, 11,000 acre-feet; the California portion of the Tahoe Basin, 23,000 acre-feet; and the Truckee Basin, 32,000 acre-feet.
In the past few months, Sierra Pacific Power Co. and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe (two of the main TROA negotiators) have demanded that the Truckee Basin be required to return a certain amount of that water, called a depletion rate.
Holzmeister said depletion is the water that cannot be returned to the Truckee River. When a person takes a shower, flushes the toilet or does laundry, the water used goes into the sewage system where it is treated and returned to the river via groundwater seepage.
“Normally when a water agency uses water, it goes back into the river,” said Holzmeister.
However, when lawns are watered, there is a portion of the water that is evaporated and blows out of that watershed and it is considered depleted.
So, Nevada interests are now saying that a percentage of Truckee’s allocated 32,000 acre-feet of water must not be depleted and returned to the Truckee River, according to Mal Toy, of the Placer County Water Agency.
His agency is monitoring the TROA negotiations for Placer County, but also plans to supply water to the homes in the Lahontan development, which is in the Truckee Basin.
Earlier this summer, California negotiator Carroll Hamon said that the state believes the Truckee Basin should not have a depletion rate set upon its allocation. While many municipal systems can return 90 percent of the water they use, Hamon had said “Essentially I say whatever goes back, goes back.”
However, on July 25, according to Toy, California agreed to a 55 percent depletion rate, or 17,600 acre-feet. If the area was using its full 32,000 acre- feet, it would have to return 14,400 acre-feet to the river.
“From a water purveyor’s point of view, this was a setback,” said Holzmeister. “The California negotiators put it out there and it’s tough to grab it back from the table.” He said on this issue, the state negotiators didn’t seek advice from the Truckee River Basin Water Group, which was formed to monitor TROA and give California advice.
“The authority is theirs and we’re advisors,” he said.
Figuring out a depletion rate will be a tough and costly task, he said. Various water uses such as lawn watering or washing cars have different depletion rates and temperatures and weather conditions will affect those rates.
Additionally, all the water purveyors in the Truckee Basin would have to calculate the rate to get a total depletion rate for Truckee. Holzmeister said that would include TDPUD, Northstar Community Services District, Donner Lake Mutual Water Company, Glenshire Mutual Water Company, Alpine Meadows County Water District and Squaw Valley County Water District, plus a number of ranchers who hold water rights north of Truckee.
“We’re going from a known number of 32,000 acre feet to a number we don’t know how to calculate,” Holzmeister said.
Truckee Donner Public Utility District currently uses 4,000 acre feet a year, but estimates that it will use 9,000 acre feet a year once its district is built out. He does not know if the depletion rate could curtail growth in Truckee, but says it has the potential to do so.
David Antonucci, general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District which services a few riverside homes in the Truckee Basin, said the depletion issue is not fair to Truckee residents.
“This issue was brought up by the tribe and the power company totally out of the blue,” he said, adding that he can’t figure out why “unless they just had buyer’s remorse on the 32,000 acre feet.”
Janet Carson, of Sierra Pacific Power Company, said that this issue came up because Nevada realized that California has a law which requires people to reuse water as much as possible.
In Nevada law, a future water use cannot have an adverse impact on the historical use of that water. For example, if a farmer traditionally irrigated land and half of the water went downstream to the next landowner, that farmer is obligated to continue to return half of his water to the river.
Carson said when the allocation was made in 1990, Sierra Pacific expected half of Truckee’s 32,000 acre feet to be returned to the river. But after finding out about the California law to reuse water, they wanted that expectation to be part of the TROA document.
“I don’t know why it’s not an issue in the Tahoe Basin,” Carson said.
Hamon said earlier this summer that water use in the Tahoe Basin is contained within the basin or is transportated to the Truckee Tahoe Sanitation Agency, where it is treated and eventually returned to the river.
Neil Eskind, a Tahoe City attorney who has been involved in TROA negotiations for the North Tahoe Public Utility District, said that language was put into the 1990 law to protect the Tahoe Basin from this type of thing. The same language was not given to the Truckee Basin in the law, he said.
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