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Draft river operating agreement makes progress

Tanya Branson

The final session of a six-year negotiating effort ended last week, with an agreement on the way water will flow in the future within the Truckee River watershed.

“I think we’re getting to the end,” said Janet Carson, manager of water resources for Sierra Pacific Power Company, the water supplier for the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area.

With the last remaining issues resolved, a draft of the Truckee River Operating Agreement could be released for public review before the end of the year.

The complex and technical document will lay out the management scenarios of the river, its tributaries and the water stored in Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake, Independence Lake and Boca, Prosser and Stampede reservoirs. It determines how the water can be used that is allocated in the 1990 federal law, the Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Settlement Act.

That law ended years of water wars between the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe and upstream water users, specifically Sierra Pacific Power Company. However, one of the law’s requirements was for five entities – California, Nevada, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Sierra Pacific and the Pyramid Lake Tribe – to work out a Truckee River Operating Agreement.

“We are on the way to finalizing the draft TROA,” said Carroll Hamon, the chief negotiator for the California Department of Water Resources.

The Sept. 16 negotiating session in Reno focused on issues that California wanted resolved and afterward Hamon said “we got what we wanted.”

Some in Truckee are not so sure the town got what it wanted.

“There’s still too much unknown,” said Peter Holzmeister, general manager of the Truckee-Donner Public Utility District, which provides water to much of the Truckee area.

California agreed to a requirement that just 17,600 acre-feet of the Truckee Basin’s allocation of 32,000 acre-feet could be depleted. The rest of the water allocation for the area from River Ranch to Truckee to the Nevada state line must eventually be returned to the Truckee River.

Hamon was pleased that the depletion would be measured by the amount of water actually consumed, not by the amount of water taken from the river system.

“In addition, we agreed that before TROA is signed we would develop a methodology for estimating that consumptive use, so there’s no question in the future,” Hamon said.

Holzmeister said a subcommittee will be meeting during the next year to work out a way to calculate the depletion of water – something that could be a difficult task.

California interests succeeded in developing a way to bring the involved water rights holders together if the proposed TROA does not work in the way computer models project. At times called “mid-course correction,” California wanted disputes over water management to be mediated and, if no resolution is found, to go to a hearing officer who would make a final decision.

The downstream users holding the water rights would not agree to a third party making final decisions, but they did agree on mediation if future disputes cannot be resolved, Hamon said.

Sierra Pacific Power Company agreed to the mid-course correction, Carson said, although the company believes that TROA already includes ways to work out disputes. She said there is coordination available for immediate problems, a provision to review TROA in 10 years to determine how it’s working and a dispute resolution process.

She did not understand the concern of California interests over mid-course correction.

“I wonder if they’re visualizing the rigidity of the current operation,” Carson said, adding that the emphasis in TROA is to allow for more flexibility in the operation of the Truckee River system.

Kathleen Eagan, a member of the Truckee River Basin Water Group which has monitored TROA, said that Truckee interests are concerned because the beneficial impacts of TROA in the Truckee area are based upon voluntary actions by downstream water owners.

“Our interest is to make sure when we get to the table we’re not summarily blown off,” said Mal Toy, of the Placer County Water Agency.

“I believe on balance we came out the best we could,” Hamon said. “Now that we’ve resolved these issues in principal, we can put them into a draft document.”

He expects that it may take another month to finalize the wording in the draft document. At the same time, the draft Environmental Impact Statement required by the federal government and the draft Environmental Impact Report required by California will be finalized as well.

Both documents will be printed in November and should be released to the public before the end of the year. The public can make comments on the environmental reports, which will then be answered before the draft documents can be signed and made final, Hamon said.

As part of the public review, several public meetings will be scheduled to explain the TROA – probably after Christmas, he said.

“It’s going to be hard for the public to understand,” said Carson.

However, she noted that those involved with some type of use on the Truckee River (recreational users, water purveyors, etc.) have been involved with the TROA negotiations through the years and probably won’t be bringing up new issues.

Some Nevada issues are left unresolved, Carson said.

“There’s huge issues on the lower river between the Newlands Project and the Pyramid Lake Tribe,” Carson said.

However, if the Fallon farmers who use Truckee River water for irrigation in the Newlands Project and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe cannot solve their problems, it will not hold up the TROA agreement, she said.


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