Subconservancy almost ready to begin buying water rights

A long-awaited water rights purchase program designed to end litigation between water users and the Paiute tribe is set to begin soon.

Carson Water Subconservancy District Manager Ed James said he has received a contract agreement that will allow the district to begin receiving federal money for the Newlands Water Rights Acquisition Project.

Funds will not be released, however, until a public comment period ends for the Bureau of Reclamation's environmental assessment of the effect the program will have on Paiute tribal assets in the area.

"I do not anticipate any major complaints to the study, but the federal agencies will not sign the contract until after the Sept. 8 public comment deadline," James told district officials. "The BOR official in charge said it was the hardest environmental assessment she has ever put together. But they have done a lot of work up front addressing all issues. I don't expect any red flags."

If no conflicts occur, a portion of approximately $9 million should soon be transferred to the Carson Water Subconservancy District to assist with the purchase of water rights from sellers within the Newlands Reclamation Project. Once purchased, the water rights will be retired.

James said the first year's allotment of $1.3 million should be available in two weeks. The remaining allotment will be dispersed over the next four years.

"We will have no difficulty spending it. We have already had inquiries from owners representing a total of 1,000 acres of water rights. This translates into approximately $3 million, and I anticipate that will increase to purchases totaling $6 million by the end of the year," James said.

The 1999 Legislature put the subconservancy district in charge of a special fund to purchase up to 6,500 acres of surface water rights from willing sellers for unused water rights in the project's agricultural areas east of Fernley and downstream of Lake Lahontan in Churchill County.

By retiring the water rights, the subconservancy district will help make sure more water is available in the Truckee and Carson rivers to be used by the Paiute tribe.

In addition to the federal money, the state Legislature allocated $3.6 million; Sierra Pacific, $2.5 million; and other regional water agencies, $100,000.

Each of the other participating agencies has already submitted at least a portion of its share of funding. During the past few months, district officials have expressed frustration with the length of the Bureau of Reclamation process and determined they would not move forward with any water purchases until the promised federal funds are received.

The district has incurred approximately $90,000 in related administrative costs since July 1999.


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