Water science

Jerry Purdy is a retired engineer.

Jerry Purdy is a retired engineer.

There is an ominous direction being taken by community leaders regarding the availability of water for growth. Because water rights sold at auction a few years ago were deemed too expensive by developers, Carson City Sen. Mark Amodei alleviated their pain by successfully introducing legislation to create a board to assist in the distribution of water resources for future growth.

This new board, called the “Western Regional Water Commission,” began functioning in April. It’s duties haven’t been clearly defined, but its membership has defined it as a political board. Their vision of “sustainable” is likely to be short-sighted, based on election cycles, and not on a 30-year or 100-year horizon.

Being a political board, members will come and go and be swayed by individual visions of the best future for our community. Many members will see growth in a positive light and will have an open ear to shaky proposals that profess to have the water needed for new development. “Experts” will conclude the resources are there and will back the proposals. Paper rights granted by the Nevada State Engineer will be included, adding more credibility. However, even now, there are more paper rights issued in each and every basin than can be backed by “wet water.”

Once a resource is accepted, it is supposed to last forever. While it may be impossible to predict the viability of a resource forever, science and technology can produce accuracy sufficient to justify accepting a resource. The importation from Fish Springs Ranch (Honey Lake Importation Project) is an example. Originally proposed at up to 18,000 acre feet per year, the project was reduced to 8,000 acre feet per year and demanded a detailed monitoring plan to verify conditions as the volume of imported water increases.

Gary Norris is a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Other importation projects may now have a sympathetic ear. The board will be presented “diamonds” that may turn out to be something less. By the time problems appear, the members of the Board will be gone, the water resource sellers will be gone, the developers will be gone, and the residents of Washoe County will be left with problems that may be unsolvable. The problem will be to find more water to fill in for water that was never there to begin with.

The Western Regional Water Commission needs to have an independent technical staff. The board needs to use the input of this staff to distinguish paper water from wet water.

Ten or 20 years from now, we may be wondering how we got into this mess.

Based on these concerns and their potentially crushing impacts on water rate payers, we urge citizens to consider signing the water planning petition now being circulated which would require voter approval of proposed water import and groundwater pumping projects.