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Water outlook bleak for Nevada, California

RENO — Experts offered a grim water outlook for Nevada and California on Friday, saying farmers can again expect to receive less water than normal this year because of a drought.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials, meeting with water users at a conference in Reno, said the snowpack water content is again averaging below normal so far this winter in both states.

In Nevada, it’s currently running 71 percent in the Lake Tahoe basin, 68 percent in both the Truckee River and Carson River watersheds, 62 percent in the Walker River basin and 78 percent in the Humboldt River watershed, said Kenneth Parr, the agency’s Lahontan Basin Area Office manager in Carson City.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack is a major water source for residents and farmers in both Nevada and California.

"We’ve had back-to-back dry years. If we don’t get more precipitation in coming months, I’m afraid that (Fallon-area farmers) will experience a water shortage," Parr said.

Parr said he also is concerned about the impact of a skimpy snowpack on smaller ski resorts around Lake Tahoe.

"The corporate ski resorts are facing no problem," he said. "I’m worried about the smaller ski resorts up there."

Ron Milligan, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley operations manager in Sacramento, Calif., said his office’s initial water allocations will be "relatively low" this year because of the drought.

His office, which oversees farmers in California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, plans to wait until Feb. 20 to announce specific figures to gain a better idea of the Sierra snowpack.

"Clearly, this is going to be a tight year," Milligan said. "The amount of water in storage is very low and the run-off projections at this point are very low. It’s going to be very challenging to meet the various needs."

As of Jan. 22, the snowpack water content was 49 percent of average for the date in Northern California, 57 percent in Central California and 64 percent in Southern California, Milligan said.

Bill Diedrich, an almond grower in Fresno County, said he’s facing the prospect of losing some of his orchards because of the drought.

"Quarter sections of almonds may be dead by the end of the year. It’s one of the grimmest water situations we’ve ever faced," said Diedrich, a member of a fourth-generation California farm family.

As many as 40 other farmers in his San Luis Water District are not planting annual row crops because of speculation they could get zero surface water, Diedrich said.

"You can’t plant an annual crop when you’re facing such an uncertain water situation," Diedrich said. "We need for everyone to understand it’s an absolute emergency and anything to get water flowing quickly is needed."

"The real story here is food security. I believe it’s a national issue," Diedrich added, noting California grows fruits and vegetables that are consumed nationwide.

Electronic sensor readings taken throughout the Sierra as of Jan. 1 showed the overall water content of the snowpack at 76 percent of normal, compared with 60 percent last year.

"This doesn’t bode well," Milligan said. "We’ll have to see how the dynamics of the Pacific play out the rest of the season … and whether we get any major storms. It could go either way."

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