By Leanna Lehman, For the Fernley Reporter
The TCID Board met Thursday, Aug. 17, along with representatives from the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and several members of the public to discuss extending the outage of the Truckee Canal in Fernley for 30 days to accommodate delays in the project due to poor weather conditions.
The 31-mile-long canal delivers water to more than 50,000 acres of farmland, wildlife, and area residents. The earthen canal breached in January 2008 caused flooding and millions in damage to properties and homes in Fernley.
Phase I of the Truckee Canal Public Safety Improvement Project began last December. The multiphase federally funded project aims to restore the safe, long-term operation of the Truckee Canal, increase public safety, and improve water supply reliability. The canal extends from the Truckee River through Fernley and into Lahontan Reservoir. TCID and BOR shut down the canal last fall before construction, and it has remained inactive so that concrete lining can be installed through approximately 3.5 miles of the earthen canal in the most vulnerable stretch to the City of Fernley.
According to the contract, the agreed upon construction window for the canal outage (no water flow) is October 1, 2022, through September 30, 2023, with a provision for a 30-day extension if mutually agreed upon by TCID and the BOR Contracting Officer.
According to BOR Lahontan Basin Area Office Manager Jack Worsley, the entire project, which includes additional maintenance that can be done with water in the canal, is expected to be completed by March or April 2024, which is the initially anticipated completion date. More present concerns, however, revolve around the canal outage and the rapidly dropping water table in areas believed to be affected.
Fernley residents that attended the meeting came with questions but received few answers. When asked about seeing the project plans and details about the construction specifications in hopes of understanding why the delay, they were told by Worsley that they do not have to provide those details to the public as they are not a matter of public record. It was later disclosed that even TCID could not access the plans.
“BOR does not release designs for projects,” Worsley said, “We don’t do that.”
It was later stated that BOR is a “quasi-public agency.”
Some Fernley residents stated they have had to deepen their wells and are dealing with limited water due to the canal being out of service since last fall. Residents believe that their wells have run dry as a result. Jim Moffit reported that he has had to deepen his well, which carries a hefty price tag of $20,000. Drillers had to deepen to 300’ after coming up dry at 180’ and 240’. He also told the board that several of his neighbors must extend the depth of their wells.
One resident pressed Worsley stating that during the August 1 meeting, the BOR was asked how much of the lining was completed, to which he replied at the time, “I don’t have that,” but stated he would find out. Worsley again did not have an answer.
According to Worsley, the contract has a built-in provision to extend for weather delays, so they are asking for the extension. One resident stated that she had no confidence that the project would be done at the end of the 30 days extension.
“I guarantee you the project is not going to be done on October 30. You sat right here on August 1 and told us there were no delays reported.” Worsley’s response was, “I couldn’t say anything else.”
It was later explained that when it rains, the canal takes a very long time to dry so the work can continue, which has resulted in delays. According to Worsley, the weather exceeded the allowed time outlined in the contract, but should the matter go to court; a judge would likely rule in favor of the contractor as the weather conditions are out of their control. However, the question remained unanswered as to why this was not disclosed at the August 1 meeting.
TCID Board Member Davey Stix asked the BOR, “So let’s say we grant the 30 days, and November 1st rolls around, and the contractors are not done? Does anyone have an answer at all if this extension is denied?” Worsley replied, “You’re not going to be able to put water in the canal.” The project cannot be completed if the extension is not granted.
Fernley Mayor Neal E. McIntyre also had questions. “I don’t know what the process was for getting the contract, beginning of the project. I have been in construction for 40 years, and it comes down to why are we contracting with a company from Alaska that doesn’t know how to move dirt?”
He also stated that there have already been three superintendents on the job.
“This is the primary reason that we are where we are on this job. Now, we are not anywhere close to being done,” said McIntyre. “You’ve got two months to do two miles, and it’s taken you 10 months to do a mile. I think that’s a really big problem.”
He further stated that they were led to believe the outage would not affect the aquifer, but it has. Fernley has wells that are going dry and many people that don’t have the money to deepen.
“This is really detrimental to the citizens of Fernley,” McIntyre said.
Worsley, who did not realize the speaker was the mayor of Fernley, asked, “So you’re the one suing us with the “stop work”? – I can’t really talk to you about this.”
Steven Macky, another Fernley resident, asked how soon the water would be back in the canal if they got the 30-day extension. He was told that the BOR cannot give a firm time, but it depends on many factors.
“We are doing everything we can to get that water back in. If there is an injunction right now, there will be no water delivered to Fernley through the takeout. We are doing everything we can; we are. We need to make sure the canal can take water safely and that we can make deliveries, said Worsley, “Nobody is sitting around this table trying to say Fernley can suck it.”
Public comments continued for nearly an hour as Fernley water users expressed frustration and sought definitive answers. Unfortunately, the only clear answer was that failing to extend the contract for 30 days would slow the project and only delay water being returned to the canal. The TCID Board approved the extension with promises of further discussion at the September meeting.