RENO — Nearly 30 years after the first overture was initiated to settle decades of water wars over the Truckee River, clearing the last hurdles to implementing a pact was celebrated Tuesday.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid- D-Nev., made negotiating a truce to the ongoing water conflicts along Northern Nevada’s biggest river a priority when first elected to the Senate in 1986. In 1990, Congress passed a law directing Nevada, California, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Truckee Meadows Water Authority and the U.S. government to negotiate a resolution for divvying up the river that flows 120 miles from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake north of Reno.
Decades later, the Truckee River Operating Agreement is now officially a done deal. Even though the agreement was signed in 2008 and various aspects implemented in stages, legal challenges by the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District that provides water to Fallon-area farmers held up ratification. Those lawsuits were recently dropped, allowing full implementation.
“It’s really been extremely hard, quite frankly,” Reid said in a telephone interview after his flight from Las Vegas was canceled and he missed a press conference hailing the agreement.
“I’m happy as a lark. I’m just sorry I couldn’t be there,” he said.
The pact guiding management of what has been described as the most litigated river in the country gives the Reno-Sparks area upstream storage for drought reserves, provides money and resources for tribal fisheries and preempts future litigation between Nevada and California over water allocation.
Under the agreement, Truckee River water is split 90 percent to 10 percent between Nevada and California, respectively. It also divvies up the Carson River with 80 percent to Nevada and 20 percent to California. Two-thirds of Lake Tahoe water belongs to California, one-third to Nevada.
It also mandated more aggressive water conservation in the Reno-Sparks area that resulted in regionwide water meters in exchange for upstream drought storage in Stampede Reservoir.
“We have waited literally decades for this day and it could not come at a more opportune time with the potential for a fifth year of drought in 2016,” said Sparks Mayor Geno Martini.
The agreement also established a $25 million fishery fund for the Pyramid Lake tribe and $40 million for economic development. Tribal officials said the accord will enhance conditions in the Truckee River basin for the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout and endangered Pyramid Lake cui-ui.
Leo Drozdoff, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said it would take years to explain all the intricacies of the agreement. “Literally decades worth of work went into getting this operating agreement into place,” he said.
“From a drought perspective, this agreement truly is a game changer,” Drozdoff added. “It provides certainty in uncertain times.”
Mark Foree, general manager of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, the Reno-area’s water purveyor, said the added available upstream storage will triple the region’s drought reserve from around 22,000 acre-feet to 70,000 acre-feet, if Mother Nature cooperates.
Foree said the agency does not use water reserves on an annual basis or to service growth in the community.
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