Commentary - July 23, 2021 - by Ray Hagar
Editor's note: This response was sent to Nevada Newsmakers from City of Fernley officals in response to an interview done by host Sam Shad with Brad Crowell, the director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. It is published in its entirety, with minor editing changes.
Fernley is extremely disappointed by the inaccurate information given to the public by Mr. Shad and Mr. Crowell on a recent Nevada Newsmakers broadcast. If either Mr. Crowell or Mr. Shad had bothered to contact City officials prior to the show we could have provided them accurate data and information about the Truckee Canal and the impacts of the Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed project to line the canal. Instead, they chose to discuss the project without having researched the facts and thereby misinform the public.
The reality is that this project will have a devastating impact on Fernley and its 20,000 citizens. Even the Bureau of Reclamation acknowledges that its project “will hurt people.” Despite this, Mr. Shad and Mr. Crowell treated Fernley’s concerns as mere minor inconveniences. This is especially troubling coming from Mr. Crowell who, as a state official, should be looking out for the best interests of the citizens of Nevada rather than promoting a federal government project that will hurt those citizens.
Other Nevada officials, including Sens. Cortez-Masto and Rosen and U.S. Rep. Amodei, have been supportive of Fernley’s position and are actively working to assist Fernley getting its concerns addressed. Having Mr. Shad and Mr. Crowell spread misinformation and inaccuracies about Fernley’s situation undermines the bi-partisan efforts of Nevada’s other public officials.
In Mr. Shad’s initial question to Mr. Crowell (at minute 16:45 on the video) he states that ½ the water diverted through the canal is “lost” to Fernley. Mr. Shad does not indicate where he got this number. In reality, scientific studies show that the groundwater recharge from the canal to the Fernley aquifer is estimated at between 12,000 and 18,000 acre-feet/annually. In an average water year, apx. 200,000 acre-feet of water are diverted from the Truckee River through the canal. This means that the water “lost” to Fernley is roughly 10% (not ½) of what is being delivered through the canal.
Mr. Shad’s question was also internally inconsistent. In one breath he claims that the recharge water is “lost”, implying that it is wasted, while at the same time he acknowledges that the citizens of Fernley are using that water. Under Nevada law, if the water is being beneficially used, it is not being wasted. Nothing is “lost.” Instead, the water is being used exactly as was intended when the Newlands Project was built – to support the development and growth of towns and cities along the canal.
In Mr. Crowell’s response he states that this issue is not in the State’s jurisdiction. This is incorrect. In Nevada all water belongs to the public and is managed by the State, including water diverted and used by the Federal government. The State is the jurisdictional entity that issued Fernley its groundwater permits based on the recharge provided by the canal. And, the State has always supported and encouraged Fernley’s use of the recharge water.
Mr. Crowell also acknowledged that he did not have any data about Fernley’s water rights in front of him but then went on to make claims about those rights anyway. He incorrectly states that Fernley has other water that it can use instead of the recharged groundwater. However, Fernley is currently 100% dependent on its groundwater rights, over 90% of which comes from the canal recharge.
Fernley is working to diversify its water resources and will soon be able to bring surface water into its municipal system. However, the Bureau of Reclamation has placed restrictions on Fernley’s ability to use its surface water for municipal purposes. One example of this is that the Bureau has restricted Fernley’s use of its surface water to the irrigation season. But Fernley has to provide water to its citizens on a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, year-round basis. This means that Fernley will still be reliant on its groundwater resources.
In addition, Fernley’s surface water rights were dedicated to the City under agreements with property owners which require Fernley to use the water to support future growth and development. In other words, those water resources are spoken for and are not available to be used as a replacement for the lost groundwater.
Finally, neither Mr. Shad, nor Mr. Crowell even acknowledged the effect that lining the canal will have on the hundreds of citizens whose homes rely on domestic wells. Studies show that if the canal is lined over 70% of these wells will fail leaving the homeowners with no other source of water. Because of the location of these homes, the City does not have the ability to hook them up to the municipal water system.