Trying to arrive at a forever agreement
Today, the Truckee River and its reservoirs are operated through the dictates of court decrees written 60 to 80 years ago. Many times, we have heard Federal Water Master Garry Stone say his actions concerning the Lake Tahoe Dam are spelled out in the 1935 Truckee River Agreement.
That piece of paper directly impacts our recreation-based economy in the summer, as well as homeowners and property owners along Lake Tahoe’s shoreline and the Truckee River’s bank. The rules laid out for the operation of Lake Tahoe in the 1935 Truckee River Agreement can lead to homes, businesses and infrastructure being flooded along the river; excessive shoreline erosion and pier damage on Lake Tahoe and other downstream effects.
These impacts were surely not even considered in 1935 when the court decree was handed down to unravel litigation and ongoing fights over the operation of Lake Tahoe and to better delineate Nevada water rights.
But much can change in several decades.
That is why it is preposterous to even consider implementing a Truckee River Operating Agreement without some way to reassess its impacts.
Negotiators in Nevada and California are tackling the last tough issues in the document that details how the river system and its reservoirs – Boca, Stampede, Prosser Creek and the upper levels of Tahoe, Donner and Independence – can be operated.
Once the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA) is finalized, it is a permanent fixture – much like the 1935 Truckee River Agreement.
One of the issues remaining is called “mid-course correction” and it is vital to the agreement. It would set into place a mechanism by which any of the five mandatory parties to the TROA (California, Nevada, U.S. Department of the Interior, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and Sierra Pacific Power Company) could call the others to the table to discuss an operating method set forth in TROA.
Why is this necessary?
The TROA is based on models of the river system using the weather history of the past 95 years. Aside from a couple of issues still left to negotiate, everyone has said they can live with the TROA model’s projected changes in the river system.
But what if the model is wrong? What if the future weather history of the Sierra is significantly different than the past 100 years?
Without a crystal ball, it’s a little difficult to buy off on an agreement that will be in effect forever.
What if the TROA ends up significantly harming some of the key parties in the agreement, but benefits another party? Will the party that is enjoying a benefit at someone else’s expense be willing to come to the table to discuss changes? Probably not, unless there is a TROA mechanism to force that party to a negotiating forum.
Consider the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. It has set forth environmental thresholds it wants to achieve, but recognizes that scientific research continues to bring forth new information. So the TRPA reviews its thresholds every five years and is not locked into policies based on available information several years ago.
Likewise, TROA should not be locked into the scientific evidence and the political climate of 1997.
A mid-course correction must be an element in the TROA. The team of California representatives from the Department of Water Resources should not compromise on this point. Already, California representatives made a major concession for Californians concerning the amount of water that the Truckee area can use.
The California negotiators must not give in on this issue, too.
It is in the best interests of everyone within the bistate Truckee River watershed to have an opportunity to modify a “forever” agreement.
-The Tahoe World
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