Down to the wire: Negotiating session scheduled Sept. 15-16 in Reno | SierraSun.com
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Down to the wire: Negotiating session scheduled Sept. 15-16 in Reno

TANYA BRANSON

Only the “sticky wickets” are left to discuss, after six years of intense negotiations and decades of legal maneuverings, noted Carroll Hamon, a representative of California’s Department of Water Resources.

The proposed Truckee River Operating Agreement – required by a 1990 law intended to settle disputes on the Truckee River – is nearly finished. However, some issues that California representatives are unhappy with are keeping the negotiations from being wrapped up. (See related story.)

“I think we’ll be able to work them out,” Hamon said.

There are also a few issues with the Truckee Carson Irrigation District and Fernley, Nev., left unresolved, but they are not required to be part of the TROA if they cannot be worked out in time, said Bill Bettenberg, of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Policy Analysis.

Five-way signoff

The Truckee River Operating Agreement, which will detail how the river system and its reservoirs are operated, must be signed by five mandatory parties, including the state of Nevada, the state of California, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Sierra Pacific Power Co. and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

“Typical in negotiations, the last issues are the trickiest ones,” said Jeff Zippin, the team leader for the Truckee Carson Coordination Office, which provides staff support for the U.S. Department of the Interior.

A negotiating session has been set for Sept. 15-16 in Reno to try to reach agreement on the final issues, Zippin said. If an agreement is made, the negotiators will sign a draft TROA.

“They will sign something that says we tentatively agree with what’s in this draft,” said Zippin.

Then the draft Environmental Impact Statement, required for the federal government, and the Environmental Impact Report, required for California, will be released for public review in mid-October, said Steve Alcorn, of the Truckee Carson Coordination Office, which gives technical assistance to the Department of the Interior.

The public review must be at least 60 days, but it could be extended so it ends after the holidays. After public comments are made, the environmental experts must answer all concerns with the document.

The Truckee Carson Coordination Office, based in Carson City, is planning to hold several workshops to explain the TROA to the public, said Chuck Buchanan, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Generally, a year will elapse before a draft EIR/EIS is finalized. If the public comments prompt changes in the TROA, all the negotiators must agree on the changes.

Once finished, the TROA document must be approved by federal judges before it can be enacted, said Bettenberg.

The final TROA must be OK’d by two federal courts, who will review the document to ensure that it doesn’t conflict with previous court rulings such as the Orr Ditch Decree which sets out water rights priorities, said Bettenberg. The Orr Ditch Decree will be reviewed by the U.S. District Court in Reno, while the U.S. District Court in Sacramento will review other court decrees, he said.

Setting into motion

Enacting TROA will set into motion a number of related agreements that have been waiting for the TROA to be finished.

Some of those agreements have been implemented on an interim basis which are set to expire at the end of 1997 if TROA is not finalized, said Janet Carson, of Sierra Pacific Power Co.

“Everybody thought we would be done by now,” said Carson.

Currently, the Reno-Sparks area is complying with a water conservation agreement that will expire at the end of the year.

Additionally, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe is receiving the Truckee River’s unallocated water on an interim basis. Several entities temporarily withdrew their lawsuits, applications, protests and appeals concerning that unallocated water and will permanently withdraw those claims if TROA goes into effect, Carson said.

The 1989 Preliminary Settlement Agreement between Sierra Pacific and the Tribe is also waiting for TROA to be finalized.

“Its terms don’t go into effect until TROA goes into effect, but we are kind of observing it on a gentlemen’s agreement,” said Carson.

Carson said she believes the interim agreements will be extended at the end of the year, since TROA will not be finalized by 1997.

“There are a number of dominos out there we have to be careful of,” Buchanan said.

Those involved in the TROA negotiations are aware that it is possible that the TROA negotiations could collapse, but are hopeful that final issues will be worked out.

“There’s been a number of back and forth exchanges on language. I think it’s pretty promising,” Zippin said.

Hamon noted that after six years, negotiators are becoming worn out with the issues and are pushing for an end.

Carson, too, is ready to see the TROA put into place.

“We’ve all invested years of effort,” she said.

Within the Western water wars – which include rivers the size of the Colorado and the Columbia – a finalized Truckee River Operating Agreement could put to rest over 100 years of fighting and litigation over the Truckee River.

“For its size, it’s probably the most litigated in the country,” Zippin said.

He explained that the litigation may stem from the river flowing in two states and the early involvement by the federal government with water rights.

“Anywhere in the arid West, if you don’t have water, you don’t have anything,” Zippin said.


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