Water outlook good for farms, ranches in rural Nevada

FALLON -- A string of winter storms to cap off a year that started with a wet spring has irrigation district officials optimistic they will have adequate water supplies for Northern Nevada ranchers and farmers in 2011.

Thanks to mountain snowpacks estimated at double the normal level for early December, water flows are up in both the Lahontan and Carson valleys, with storage on the rise in the Lahontan reservoir as well.

"We have, what we hope to be, a full supply," said Rusty Jardine, project manager for the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

Water levels had been expected to hover around 64,000 acre-feet of storage at Lahontan reservoir about 50 miles east of Reno. But a series of strong storms back in April combined with a big storm over Thanksgiving, and continued precipitation since increased the total to 76,900 acre-feet in early December.

An acre foot is the amount of water it takes to cover 1 acre, 1 foot deep, or about 325,000 gallons.

The problem for the Carson Valley is a lack of storage, as the valley has only a few, small private reservoirs, Blanchard said. The valley has to rely more on nature with strong snowpack and rain storms for its water supply, he said. What has been helping so far, though, is the consistent drizzles keeping the ground saturated, which has kept the river flows at a high level.

The wild card is the unknown impact of the La Niña weather system in the coming year, Blanchard said.

The Carson and Lahontan valleys as well as the Winnemucca area to the northeast all sit in the middle of the system in terms of latitude, with wet weather to the north and dry to the south, he said.