Agri-lines Irrigation in Winnemucca hosted a water rights seminar on Nov. 14, presented by water engineer David Hillis of Turnipseed Engineering. Several landowners from Humboldt and Pershing counties attended and they had their questions ready.
The presentation included an overview of Nevada water rights and offered a chance for local landowners to ask questions. It opened with the announcement by an Agri-lines employee, “He (Hillis) is not with the Division of Water Resources, so feel free to say and ask anything you want. It’s not going to be held against you.”
Landowners along the Humboldt River have expressed no small amount of concern over the future of their farms and ranches. An overabundance of rain this spring meant senior and junior water rights holders received their full allocation of water. But the inevitability of drought in the future keeps farmers and ranchers on the lookout for ways to prepare.
At the end of the presentation, Hillis fielded questions about specific water rights situations.
Hillis previously explained the mitigation program under consideration by the state. It includes financial compensation to senior rights holders affected by pumping of junior rights holders. The Nevada Division of Water Resources hopes the mitigation program will prevent curtailment of groundwater pumping in over-allocated basins, particularly along the Humboldt River.
Some of those present expressed frustration with the mitigation program, saying they would rather have the water than money.
One person suggested using money from the mitigation program to fund improvement projects. “If you’re going to charge people, at least put it to good use,” he said.
“Instead of strangling a community, why wouldn’t they think about real solutions?” an attendee asked.
Reducing water loss between Rye Patch Reservoir and Lovelock was an area of concern. Hillis said approximately 70 percent of the water that flows out of the reservoir gets lost to the ditch system’s porous soil. He suggested lining the ditches to prevent the water from draining away.
The cost of an improvement project like lining irrigation ditches causes problems as well. Even relatively simple changes could become prohibitively expensive when factoring in required environmental studies. The amount required for the environmental studies would run around five times higher than the cost of the project, Hillis said.
However, according to Humboldt County Commissioner Ron Cerri, in the case of Rye Patch Reservoir, it could be much simpler than Hillis implied. If the water district owns the right of way for the reservoir, it’s considered private property and wouldn’t require the kind of studies needed for projects involving public land, he said.
Some of the attendees voiced their desire to move toward more lasting solutions.
“How do we move forward? In an over-appropriated basin, either my kids, or somebody else is going to pay for it,” one attendee said. “Why wait? Let’s just get it fixed.”
“It’s human nature, is what we’re up against,” Hillis replied. “If you’re willing to take a reduction on something to help the system, wonderful. Will your neighbor? Will his neighbor? Will everyone else join in?”
“So how does change start?” someone asked.
“Start with your local senator,” Hillis answered. “Ask him to work with you to promote legislation.” Hillis also suggested contacting the state engineer.
“He’s on your side when it’s about bringing the basin back in balance. He doesn’t like that it’s out of balance. He didn’t cause the issue. He would love to fix it.” Hillis said he didn’t know what that solution would entail.
Regarding alternative solutions, Hillis said, “I think starting with efficiency is one. Increasing the efficiency of the system will provide more water for everyone — if that were to happen.”
But improvement projects are costly, and the threats of drought and curtailment still loom. Ultimately, affected parties have to speak up to bring change, according to Hillis.
“The more that people are involved, the more their voice is going to be heard,” he said.
Those wanting to take action in the meantime to improve efficiency have some avenues to pursue. The Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United State Department of Agriculture provides services, tools, resources and financial assistance for improvements that benefit conservation. The website is www.nrcs.usda.gov.
People can also attend and speak out at the quarterly meetings of the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority, either during public comment or as an agendized discussion item.