Attorney urges residents to submit comments as well
Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
With concerns that it could have potentially devastating effects on the city’s water supply, the Fernley City Council voted unanimously on April 1 to submit comments in response to a proposal to line the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District canal through Fernley.
In addition, the attorney who represents the City on water matters urged residents to submit their own comments on how the lining of the canal would negatively impact them.
Attorney David Rigdon, of the law firm Taggart and Taggart, walked the council through a draft Environmental Impact Statement produced by the Bureau of Reclamation, in which the preferred course of action would be lining the TCID canal through Fernley. The 45-day comment period began March 6. The deadline for comments is April 20.
The TCID canal was constructed in 1905. It originates at the Derby Diversion Dam on the Truckee River and ends at Lahontan Reservoir. On January 5, 2008, the canal’s north bank breached during a storm, causing flooding and damage to approximately 590 properties in Fernley. TCID repaired the breach in February 200, and the canal reopened in March 2008. Until long-term repairs are made, the canal is required to operate at a lower stage of water to reduce risk.
In its draft EIS, the Bureau of Reclamation identifies five alternatives to repair the canal, and chose as its preferred alternative the lining of 12.7 miles of the canal with a full geomembrane liner, covered with concrete.
While that would repair any damage to the canal’s banks and likely prevent any future repeat of the 2008 flood, the City’s concern is that it would eliminate its groundwater supply.
Although the city owns the rights to 10,000 acre feet of Truckee River water per year, it currently doesn’t use any of that water for municipal purposes because its water treatment plan is not equipped to treat surface water. Instead, all of the city’s municipal water comes from groundwater.
Rigdon said the City has the right to pump 8,900 acre feet of groundwater per year, but pumped about 4,000 per year. Other users, including private wells and Nevada Cement, raise the permitted total to about 12,000 acre feet per year.
Meanwhile, he said estimates of the natural recharge of the basin’s groundwater range from 600 to 1,500 acre feet per year. However, he said estimates of recharge from the canal range from 8,000 to 18,000 acre feet per year.
“If we relied strictly on recharge from natural rainfall, there would be a significant shortfall,” Rigdon said.
However, he said that even though the City and other water users are pumping groundwater, the underground water levels remain stable, suggesting the amount being pumped is roughly equal to water going into the basin.
Rigdon said the Bureau of Reclamation and TCID have disregarded Fernley’s need for groundwater recharge from the canal.
“They don’t think that’s a problem because they don’t think we have a right to that water,” Rigdon said.
In its draft EIS, the Bureau of Reclamation offered four measures to mitigate the city’s loss of water. One of those mitigation options is for Fernley to use surface water to replace groundwater.
The problem, Ridgon said, is all of those mitigation measures would require the City of Fernley to do them.
“They’re not only asking us to slice our own throat, they’re asking us to pay for it,” Mayor Roy Edgington said. “That’s a bitter pill for me to swallow.”
Rigdon recommended all residents of Fernley submit comments explaining how this affects them. He said the BOR is required to provide answers to all comments.
“If you’re on a private well, tell them it could cause my well to go dry,” he said.
Written comments can be submitted to Laurie Nicholas, Bureau of Reclamation, Lahontan Basin Area Office, 705 N. Plaza Street, Room 320 Carson City, Nevada 89701 or faxed to 775-884-8376. Comments may also be emailed to TruckeeEIS@empsi.com. All emailed or faxed comments must be received by 11:59 p.m. PST and all mailed or personally delivered comments must be received by 4:30 p.m. PST on April 20, 2020.
Update, 5/28/20: This story has been corrected to indicate the correct amount of groundwater the city pumps.