Feds taking over Lake Tahoe Dam
RENO, Nev. (AP) – The federal government intends to take over operation of the Lake Tahoe Dam, raising concerns about future water supplies among farmers and others in the irrigation district that currently runs the dam.
Bureau of Reclamation officials said Wednesday the change wouldn’t affect the amount of water available, but officials for the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District fear they could lose part of their share of Lake Tahoe’s water.
”The fact the federal government wants to be in control of it leaves us a little uneasy,” said Lyman McConnell, manager of the district based in Fallon – an irrigated, high-desert farming community about 60 miles east of the Sierra Nevada lake.
McConnell said bureau officials telephoned the district this week, but still have provided no formal written notification of their plans.
”You would think since we have been operating and maintaining it since 1927, they would send us a formal notice before they put out a press release,” McConnell said Wednesday.
The small dam in Tahoe City is next to the popular Fanny Bridge – named for the view offered by those who bend over the railing to get a look at the 2- to 3-foot long trout that swim just below the dam in the Truckee River.
Bureau officials said federal operation of the dam is necessary to guard against legal challenges to a complicated water agreement in the works for 10 years and expected to be completed next year.
Among other things, backers of that Truckee River Operating Agreement say it will help protect Reno from drought, increase water storage for Fernley, improve recreation levels at California reservoirs and boost flows for fish and wildlife.
Kirk Rodgers, acting regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Region in Sacramento, Calif., acknowledged the move was unusual, but needed to implement the agreement.
”This is an era in which we are attempting to turn over dams to local entities, not take them back,” Rodgers said.
Disputes over water in the Truckee River and Carson River date to the turn of the century and the Newlands irrigation project, one of the first projects ever undertaken by the bureau.
If the irrigation district kept control, they could use its status as dam operator to claim the right to legally challenge the agreement, said Betsy Rieke, the bureau’s area manager for the Lahontan Basin.
”TROA is so important that we just can’t take the risk,” Reike said.
The district didn’t participate in the most recent TROA talks and doesn’t intend to sign the agreement, Rodgers said.
Rieke said operations at the dam won’t change because the federal water master will continue to dictate when water is stored or released based on a variety of factors, from lake and river levels to demands downstream, especially in drought years.
The federal government inserted language during negotiations in 1996 that allowed for the feds to take over the dam with 120 days notice without giving a reason.
”The provision was put in there anticipating we might need to do exactly what we have announced we are doing. This is not new. It is not a surprise to TCID. That doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned,” Rieke said.
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