Washoe taps Honey Lake Valley water
Fish Springs Ranch is located near the eastern edge of the Honey Lake Valley — across the state line between Honey Lake and Pyramid Lake.
While Washoe County will control the operation and maintenance of the system, Vidler retains the exclusive right to sell credits for the water.
Eventually, Vidler plans to sell 8,000 acre-feet of water a year — enough water for 16,000 homes.
Lassen County opposed the project and even filed a lawsuit to attempt to block it, but that approach was abandoned and the lawsuit was dismissed recently when the county realized it would not be able to override the project’s environmental impact statement.
John Ketelsen, Lassen County’s chief administrative officer, said Lassen County has no power over what Fish Springs Ranch does with its water.
The pipeline from Fish Springs Ranch to the Reno area goes through Bureau of Land Management land. The BLM approved the pipeline and began an EIS through the National Environmental Protection Act not the California Environmental Quality Act. Ketelsen said the county would have had more clout through a CEQA review.
The county gave the BLM a list of all the reasons it opposed the Fish Springs Ranch project, but the BLM overrode the county’s opposition and filed the EIS anyway.
Ketelsen said when the county realized there was no way to break the project’s EIS, it chose to dismiss the lawsuit.
It would have been pointless for the county to spend a lot of money pursuing the lawsuit when it was sure it would lose, Ketelsen said.
Chris Barrett, a consultant for Vidler, said there was no evidence to support Lassen County’s concerns that the Fish Springs Ranch project would deplete the aquifer on the California side of the border.
“Extensive studies were done on that aquifer,” Barrett said. “There was an extensive review by technical people. According to the EIS, there will be no significant change in the aquifer.”
Some in Lassen County also expressed concern the project might spread a toxic plume that exists in the water under Sierra Army Depot, but Barrett said it was determined the project was far enough away it would have no effect on the water under SIAD.
Barrett said Vidler has a proven track record of building water projects all across the West Coast, and the company believes in determining it has a solid, sustainable water source that will not have a detrimental affect before it begins building a water system.
“This was a long process,” Barrett said of the environmental reviews of the project. “There were many checks and balances to ensure we have a sustainable water resource.”
Vidler gave Washoe County the easements and infrastructure for the $100 million project — including five wells, 28 miles of pipeline, a 2.5 million-gallon water storage tank above the upper Lemmon Valley, a surge-control tank at Fort Sage Pass, a water tank, booster station and four miles of pipeline from the water tank to the Washoe County water lines.
Dorothy Timian-Palmer, president of the Vidler Water Company, said water rights have sold for $45,000 an acre-foot, but she expects that price to rise by 10 percent within the next few days.
Rosemary Menard, director of the Washoe County Department of Water Resources, said the county could open the valve on the project within the next two weeks.
“This is a major new water source for the Reno/Sparks and Truckee Meadows areas,” Menard said. “It’s an important project that’s been in the works for 20 years.”
While most of the water from Fish Springs Ranch eventually will be used for new developments in Washoe County, Menard said her department initially will use the Fish Springs Ranch water to supply up to 80 percent of its 3,000 customers in the Lemmon Valley.
Water levels in the Lemmon Valley aquifer have been dropping about a foot a year for decades, and Mernard said Washoe County plans to take four wells in the area offline and hopefully allow the shrinking aquifer to recharge.
According to Mernard, Washoe County operates 19 separate water systems, and most were built and dedicated by developers who drilled the wells or tapped surface water, built the pipelines and then gave the infrastructure to the county to operate.
She said the Fish Springs Ranch project will be the largest water project in the area, except for the Truckee River, which supplies about 80,000 acre-feet of water.
Menard said the Nevada State Engineer has taken a very conservative approach toward the Fish Ranch Springs project.
While there is a provision in the agreement for Vidler to extract another 5,000 acre-feet of water per year, Menard said the state engineer wants the project to prove its sustainability before allowing it to expand. She said the health of the project will be extensively monitored over the next five or ten years.
Menard said the project will only expand if there are no negative effects on Washoe County or anyone else.
According to Menard, the original project proposed about 20 years ago would have extracted nearly twice as much water.
“Vidler believes there is a sustainable amount of water,” Menard said. “Having a dependable, reliable, sustainable source of water is something Vidler and the Washoe County care a great deal about. Vidler has made some very significant investments in infrastructure. We’re pretty happy with the project.”
According to its Web site, Vidler acquired the controlling and managing interest of the Fish Springs Ranch, located about 35 miles north of Truckee Meadows in June 2002. The ranch is comprised of nearly 10,000 deeded acres and has approximately 13,000 acre-feet of permitted water rights.
Fish Springs Ranch received the right-of-way grant from the Carson City Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management to construct, operate and maintain a water supply system to supply additional water to the Reno metropolitan area.
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