Bone dry

The drought forces a park closure

The federal water master has planned to cut off flow to an irrigation ditch at Rancho San Rafael.

The federal water master has planned to cut off flow to an irrigation ditch at Rancho San Rafael.


Good news—well, maybe lukewarm news—is in store for local dog owners and park lovers. Though the ongoing drought just brought the closure of a popular off-leash park, city and county officials figure the fenced pasture at Rancho San Rafael is probably the only such space to close soon for lack of water.

“Anything beyond that is going to require direction from City Council,” said Reno Parks Manager Jeff Mann. We’ll otherwise see drier ponds and perhaps browning turf, he said, especially if the city continues to reduce irrigation. (Truckee Meadows Water Authority has requested a 10 percent drop in all customers’ water use, government departments included.) Less-than-verdant turf is natural for our climate come summertime, Mann added, “and that doesn’t mean it’s dying. It’s just going dormant.”

The dog park—which is managed by Washoe County, and is actually a multi-use public area that goes well beyond dogs—has long endured the pitter-patter of urinating canines and their (presumably non-urinating) owners.

Last winter, for instance, “we would have hundreds of people and their dogs in there on any given day, especially any weekend day, when it’s dry,” said district park manager Andy Mink, “so if we did that in the summer with the heat, the grass can go dormant … and we would damage it to a point where it would be very difficult or impossible to get it back. Dormant grass is not very tough. You walk around on it much, and it turns to dust.”

Said dust isn’t much of a natural filter, so when we do get rain or snow, resulting water on the ground won’t run clean the way it should, which in turn harms wetlands.

Speaking of wetlands, the three-acre area in question is rather marshy at the moment. Neither canines nor people were around on an especially blustery afternoon last week, but geese and other birds looked right at home near the water, which trickles in from the Highland Ditch and provides irrigation via a dwindling Truckee River. Once the federal water master shuts off the ditch,which we can expect any day now, stagnant water could pose its own risk.

“As the ponds get lower, they get more algae growth, and they get the potential for botulism in water fowl,” Mink said, referencing Virginia Lake, where a number of ducks died last year. “I’m sure it will impact the pond here at Rancho San Rafael, because all the water you see running across the pasture and off the edge goes down into the wetlands and feeds Herman’s Pond … and once the water gets cut off, there’s not going to be any water flowing through that pond to keep it from getting stagnant.”

The pasture will open for the Great Reno Balloon Race and for Cyclocross, but nothing else in the foreseeable future, County Commissioner Kitty Jung explained. “Washoe County understands this will be an inconvenience for the many people who use the pasture, but for the long-term viability of the resource, this is the best option,” she said in a prepared statement last week.

Recent rain and snowfall actually prolonged the shutoff, if only for a little while.

“We were expecting it to go off at the very end of April or the very beginning of May,” Mink said last week. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that this wet stuff continues.”