Century of conflict, over

Class Assignment for MA in Journalism with instructor Chris Bowman, former environmental reporter at the SacBee. 

RENO, Nev., November 18, 2008

“It’s done, baby,” said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., at the signing of the Truckee River Operation Agreement (TROA) Saturday afternoon.

Big names in government mingled in Wingfield Park while Truckee River revelers swam, kayaked and picnicked along the banks. It was the perfect backdrop to an agreement that will bring an end to nearly a century of bitter conflict.

Eighteen members of city, state and federal government huddled together to sign this historical document. Chief among them were Reid, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Chairman Mervin Wright, Jr. and Mayors Robert Cashell, Geno Martini and Todd Cutler of Reno, Sparks and Fernley respectively. Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., and Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., could not make it.

For those enjoying the river’s recreation, they’ll be able to keep coming back under TROA. No water rights are lost to the Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) which services the Reno-Sparks area, but better drought allocations will help the community thrive.

“It’s not only drought supplies for new developments, but also drought supplies for existing people living here. It keeps providing us with that safety net we need here in Truckee Meadows,” said Sue Oldham, a negotiator on behalf of TMWA.

In technical terms, nearly 16,000 acre feet of water will be stored during droughts. That’s a 15 percent conservation rate versus 10 percent during non-droughts.

TROA also takes into consideration the increasing population of Reno and Sparks. Oldham noted that 119,000 acre feet of water will be allocated to TMWA for the next 25 years. It hopes to accommodate the residential and municipal and industrial uses for upwards of 400,000 people.

After that, Oldham says, “We’ll have to look at other ways to back up our water support.”

Since his election to the senate in 1986, Reid has strived to pull communities together and solve the issue of water in Northern Nevada and California. He spoke passionately at Saturday afternoon’s event about the hundreds of thousands of wetlands that have been ravaged and the endangered species that TROA aims to save.

Reid described it as a “freeway” that would more easily support wildlife and plant life that couldn’t thrive under the current conditions of diversions.

This river has had many diversions both physically and legislatively over the past 90 years.

When Lake Tahoe experienced a drought in the 1920s, the official fight over the river’s resources began. At one point, around 17,000 people were being sued. These past decades, the battle went back and forth between California and Nevada.

Some of the harsher effects of diverted tributaries and dams were the emptying of Winnemucca Lake, the disappearance of Pyramid Lake Cutthroat Trout, and now the danger of depleting cui-ui and Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. Both fish are integral to the Paiute Tribe’s culture.

Reid’s efforts to pull all those communities and interests together to find a solution in 1990 under the Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act culminated in TROA.

Although it has taken 18 years since then, every effort has been made to assure that all parties were heard.

The Paiutes will not lose any water rights and any water unused will be given to them. Better timing and flow rates between California and Nevada were established. Several lawsuits will be settled. And, of course, people from across the country and world can still come to enjoy the beauties that the lakes and rivers provide.

But the battle hasn’t been won yet. After Saturday’s signing, federal and state courts will have a chance to review and comment on the agreement. Until December 2009, we’ll have to wait to breathe that heavy sigh of relief.

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