Water levels may become critical with dry conditions | SierraSun.com

Water levels may become critical with dry conditions

After a dry March, water purveyors and government officials meeting to discuss Truckee River operations say that without significant snow or rain in the coming months, water levels could become critically low.

“We’re going to adjourn this meeting to a rain dance,” said Nevada County Supervisor Barbara Green with a smile, at last week’s Truckee River Basin Water Group meeting.

But smiles were few as the group went through the latest stream flow and reservoir water storage forecasts for the Truckee River, Donner Lake, and Prosser, Stampede and Boca reservoirs.

“We’re in critical conditions again, unless we get a big rain like we did last April,” said Tim Nelson of the Department of Water Resources.

The Truckee River Basin Water Group formed in 1994 to represent regional water interests. The group includes representatives from Nevada, Placer and Sierra counties, the Town of Truckee and all of the local water purveyors.

Fishery, recreation and environmental representatives also weigh in on stream flows and lake levels, where they are affected.

The meetings are being held to discuss the Truckee River systems operation in the absence of the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA). The agreement is a document that has been in the works for several years and, if adopted, will regulate water allocation issues that have been disputed for decades. The agreement, which may be available in draft form for public review as early as August, is currently undergoing an Environmental Impact Review. Two major objectives of the agreement are to increase water storage in the reservoirs for use in the Reno area and to manage certain lake and stream levels to enhance the habitat for the endangered Cui-ui and the threatened Lahontan Cutthroat Trout.

“In creating TROA we have learned a lot about how [the river] could be operated,” said Kathleen Eagan, who has represented Truckee and the Truckee River Watershed Council at the meetings. “Historically the river has been operated as a pipeline. We’ll turn this reservoir on today and then turn it off tomorrow … river systems don’t operate like a pipeline.”

Calling the Truckee River, “the most litigated river in the nation,” Eagan said that TROA could bring resolution to “water wars” that have been going on for decades.

Information that has come out of research for TROA has allowed California to operate the river in a way that is not so damaging to the ecosystem, said Eagan. While large outflows from the reservoirs during the late summer are necessary to prevent flooding in the Fall, other stream levels can be evened out to provide a more steady flow for fish and recreation.

Several of these measures are already being employed in the river system, but this year, working with minuscule precipitation during March and a snowpack that has largely melted under warm temperatures, keeping water storage and stream flows at preferred levels is a tough challenge.

“This is really a troublesome year,” said Lisa Heki of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno.

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