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Water Policy

Nevada reiterates Tahoe shore law

Nevada's law governing public access to Lake Tahoe's shore is about 5-feet different than California's.

“The general rule of thumb is if you're (on the water) in front of private property and you decide to go on shore, you're probably trespassing,” said Jim Lawrence, administrator of the Nevada Division of State Lands.

Nevada law says the public has the right to access Lake Tahoe's shore anywhere that falls below 6,223 feet elevation, unlike California's precedent, which declares the public can go anywhere below 6228.75 feet elevation.

Lake Tahoe Restoration Act would improve water clarity, protect against wildfires

Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer joined Nevada's two senators to introduce the proposed Lake Tahoe Restoration Act, which would authorize $415 million over 10 years to improve the lake's water clarity and protect the basin from wildfire. 

The bill, co-sponsored by Democrat Harry Reid and Republican John Ensign of Nevada, proposes funding for a range of projects, including watershed restoration and storm-water management, two key factors in maintaining the lake's renowned water clarity.

In addition, the bill would set aside $136 million for fuels-reduction projects to help protect the Tahoe basin and its landowners from fires, and for removal of invasive species.

The legislation is a follow-up to a 2000 law that provided $453.8 million to maintain the environmental health of the Tahoe basin.

Flood Control Project to Drain Flood-Prone Sparks Area

Initial work to redirect floodwater that regularly submerges parts of Sparks started Wednesday, with officials calling it a milestone in wider efforts to reduce flooding along the Truckee River.

Crews installed massive drainage culverts that will route floodwater near Sparks Boulevard. It is the first phase of improvements to the North Truckee Drain, which carries storm water to the river from Spanish Springs and east Sparks. During floods the drain, which now empties into the river near its confluence with Steamboat Creek, causes water to back up and flood the Sparks industrial area as well as parts of University Farms across the river.

At a cost estimated between $60 million and $70 million, officials plan to move the drain's outlet about 1,400 feet downstream, substantially reducing flooding problems. The initial phase of work is timed to coincide with a repaving project on Interstate 80 planned by the Nevada Department of Transportation.

That Tap Water Is Legal but May Be Unhealthy

Published: December 16, 2009

The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal.

Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times.

But not one chemical has been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000.

Other recent studies have found that even some chemicals regulated by that law pose risks at much smaller concentrations than previously known. However, many of the act’s standards for those chemicals have not been updated since the 1980s, and some remain essentially unchanged since the law was passed in 1974.

All told, more than 62 million Americans have been exposed since 2004 to drinking water that did not meet at least one commonly used government health guideline intended to help protect people from cancer or serious disease, according to an analysis by The Times of more than 19 million drinking-water test results from the District of Columbia and the 45 states that made data available.

In some cases, people have been exposed for years to water that did not meet those guidelines. But because such guidelines were never incorporated into the Safe Drinking Water Act, the vast majority of that water never violated the law.

Some officials overseeing local water systems have tried to go above and beyond what is legally required. But they have encountered resistance, sometimes from the very residents they are trying to protect, who say that if their water is legal it must be safe.

Dr. Pankaj Parekh, director of the water quality division for the City of Los Angeles, has faced such criticism. The water in some city reservoirs has contained contaminants that become likely cancer-causing compounds when exposed to sunlight.

To stop the carcinogens from forming, the city covered the surface of reservoirs, including one in the upscale neighborhood of Silver Lake, with a blanket of black plastic balls that blocked the sun.

Then complaints started from owners of expensive houses around the reservoir. “They supposedly discovered these chemicals, and then they ruined the reservoir by putting black pimples all over it,” said Laurie Pepper, whose home overlooks the manmade lake. “If the water is so dangerous, why can’t they tell us what laws it’s violated?”

Dr. Parekh has struggled to make his case. “People don’t understand that just because water is technically legal, it can still present health risks,” he said. “And so we encounter opposition that can become very personal.”

Some federal regulators have tried to help officials like Dr. Parekh by pushing to tighten drinking water standards for chemicals like industrial solvents, as well as a rocket fuel additive that has polluted drinking water sources in Southern California and elsewhere. But those efforts have often been blocked by industry lobbying.

Drinking water that does not meet a federal health guideline will not necessarily make someone ill. Many contaminants are hazardous only if consumed for years. And some researchers argue that even toxic chemicals, when consumed at extremely low doses over long periods, pose few risks. Others argue that the cost of removing minute concentrations of chemicals from drinking water does not equal the benefits.

Moreover, many of the thousands of chemicals that have not been analyzed may be harmless. And researchers caution that such science is complicated, often based on extrapolations from animal studies, and sometimes hard to apply nationwide, particularly given that more than 57,400 water systems in this country each deliver, essentially, a different glass of water every day.

Government scientists now generally agree, however, that many chemicals commonly found in drinking water pose serious risks at low concentrations.

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Truckee River pact challenged

By Jeff DeLong • jdelong@rgj.com • November 29, 2009

The Truckee River Operating Agreement, more than 20 years in the making, was signed in September 2008 by officials from the federal government, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the states of Nevada and California and the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.

What U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., described as "truly landmark legislation" was celebrated as an end to protracted fights over one of the country's most litigated rivers.

Now, Churchill County, the city of Fallon and the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District are back in court, trying to block the agreement's final implementation.

"It is a disappointment, but it's not a surprise," said Mike Carrigan, chair of the water authority, jointly composed of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County.

The agreement, Carrigan said, is "really important" for the future of the Truckee Meadows, particularly for the area's ability to withstand a protracted drought.

Critics counter they are simply looking out for their own future and precious water supplies.

The agreement is designed to permanently replace an antiquated and inflexible water management system that favors farmers, small hydroelectric plants and defunct paper mills.

Instead, it allows for a more flexible system of storing and using water from Truckee River reservoirs, better protecting the Reno-Sparks area from drought, nurturing threatened fish and guaranteeing recreational opportunities.

Allen Biaggi, Nevada's director of conservation and natural resources, said TROA "brings the river's management into the 21st century."

But officials representing the Lahontan Valley area view the agreement as a threat to their future. They filed suit in U.S. District Court last spring against the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation seeking to block the agreement's implementation.

TCID, Fallon and Churchill County also are opposing other key technical changes needed to implement the agreement. A hearing in one such case is scheduled before the Nevada State Engineer next month.

The lawsuit states the agreement could directly harm downstream users of the Truckee River.

"Changes in reservoir storage activities as well as conversion of agricultural land and water to industrial and municipal uses entailed by (the agreement) would directly result in shortages of water available ... with potentially disastrous consequences," the lawsuit says.

The agreement would divert water critical to farmers and adversely impact groundwater recharge in Lahontan Valley, said Rusty Jardine, a deputy district attorney for Churchill County. Jardine said the environmental impact report prepared for the agreement inadequately addresses potential impacts.

"We don't want any water that belongs to someone else," said Michael Mackedon, an attorney representing the city of Fallon. "We simply want to protect the water that belongs to us. It's very simple."

A September answer to the lawsuit filed by the U.S. attorney argues the challenge lacks merit, asking the federal court to dismiss it.

"Basically, the EIS is adequate and the regulation is not in violation of law and ought to be upheld," said Gordon DePaoli, counsel for the water authority who is handing the agreement.

DePaoli said the legal challenges will result in significant delay in the agreement's implementation, even if the agreement's supporters prevail in court.

"It will depend if there are appeals, but I think we're certainly looking at all of next year," DePaoli said, adding that might be overly optimistic.

New government sought to manage Truckee River flood control

By Susan Voyles • svoyles@rgj.com • February 10, 2009

The Truckee River flood control project will be overseen by a new entity created under a joint powers agreement, giving Reno, Sparks and Washoe County elected officials shared control over a project that could cost up to $1.6 billion.

Elected officials at a joint meeting Monday consented to create the new entity by agreement. The Truckee Meadows Water Authority is an example of a joint powers entity, in which local governments gave up powers to create the new water utility.

The new entity would be able to sell bonds and charge fees for flood management services.

If set up similarly to the flood project coordinating committee, Reno, Sparks, Washoe County and the University of Nevada, Reno each would have two members.

"I don't want to go forward with the largest public works project in Washoe County with a model we are not experienced with," said county Commissioner Robert Larkin, chairman of the flood control steering committee. "It would be like building a bicycle as we are learning to ride it."

The other option would have been to create a flood control district that, under state law, would be under the control of the Washoe County Commission.

If the new entity were sued, the partners would have to cover any liabilities, such as damage awards, the partnership could not cover, said Greg Salter, a deputy district attorney.

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Public policies affecting water use in Nevada

January 30, 2009

By Loretta Singletary, Extension Educator, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension


Nevada is the seventh largest state in size with more than 110,000 square miles of land area. Nevada is also the driest state in the nation. The fastest growing area of the state, southern Nevada, only gets 4 inches average annual precipitation. Over 68 percent of Nevada's population lives in Clark County in southern Nevada. Approximately 20 percent of the state's population resides in northern Nevada in the communities of Reno, Carson City and Lake Tahoe. To complicate these demographics further, the vast majority of Nevada (87%) is controlled by the federal government.

Water scarcity is one of the most pressing issues facing the American West. Agriculture, cities, towns and industry are the primary water users. There are more conflicts over water than ever before in the American West. More frequently, these conflicts involve litigation.

There are several competing uses for water in Nevada. These include the use of water to:

Irrigate crops, including hay, onions, garlic, melons, potatoes, grapes and other vegetables.
Water livestock, including horses, dairy cattle, beef cattle and sheep.
Sustain habitat to support wildlife including fish, birds, deer, wild horses, and other wildlife.
Supply water recreation opportunities such as fishing, swimming and boating.
Supply other recreation including parks and golf courses.

This fact sheet describes demographic trends in Nevada in light of its history as a leader in water resource development in the western U.S. Population growth and changing attitudes towards water resources in addition to shifts in federal policy create an unprecedented period of conflict and change surrounding water. This is particularly the case for rural Nevadans including farmers and ranchers.

Population Growth and Changing Attitudes Towards Water Resources

Population in the U.S. has increased dramatically since its settlement 400 years ago. The current U.S. population is estimated at 287 million and is expected to increase to 414 million by 2050 (2002).

Nevada is the fastest growing state in the U.S. with a population of nearly 2 million. The majority of Nevadans live in urban areas including Las Vegas, Reno and Carson City. Rural areas located near these urban centers are growing rapidly, providing open space needed for residential, industrial and commercial development that accompanies rapid population growth.

The availability of water resources to meet the demands of increasing population is a question in the minds of many Nevadans, both natives and newcomers. Nevada remains the driest state in the U.S. and the majority of its water resources are legally bound to its traditional use on agricultural lands.

The agriculture sector accounts for about 78 percent of water use statewide in Nevada. And, statewide, commerce and domestic uses claim 13 percent, 7 percent is used for mining, 1 percent for producing power and less than 1 percent for industry. These figures contrast dramatically with southern Nevada, however, where residential uses account for approximately 60 percent, with 8 percent for irrigation of golf courses, schools, parks and other large green areas, 8 percent for hotels and 10 percent for commerce and fire protection.

Current economic growth in Nevada, however, does not rely on agriculture, in spite of the fact that agriculture remains vital to the economic health of its rural communities. And, plentiful water supplies are needed to support continued population and economic growth. Farmers and ranchers in particular are concerned that water resources may be arbitrarily reallocated if the pressure to support growth in urban areas surpasses the state's history of supporting irrigated agriculture.

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Waxman Report: EPA ‘Decimated’ Clean Water Act

By Mike Lillis 12/16/08, The Washington Independent.

California Rep. Henry Waxman (D) might be headed for the chairmanship of the House energy committee, but not before he gets a final shot at the Bush administration from atop the oversight panel.

A report released today from Waxman’s office — a joint effort with the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, headed by Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) — found that the Environmental Protection Agency has shown a lax interest in enforcing the Clean Water Act in recent years, leading to hundreds of instances when investigations have been neglected and waterways have been threatened. From Waxman’s statement:

Our investigation reveals that the clean water program has been decimated as hundreds of enforcement cases have been dropped, downgraded, delayed, or never brought in the first place. We need to work with the new Administration to restore the effectiveness and integrity to this vital program.

The controversy surrounds a 2006 Supreme Court ruling on the Clean Water Act (Rapanos v. United States), which restricted traditional interpretations of the law by requiring the EPA and other federal agencies to show that a waterway is a “significant nexus” to “traditional navigable waters” before officials can apply the environmental protections under the act. Following the Bush administration’s interpretation of that vague ruling, Waxman found, the EPA has whitewashed hundreds of potential violations.

The effects, according to the findings, are nationwide. The EPA branch in Dallas, for example, reported in January that it had 76 cases of confirmed oil spills, “but no follow-up for penalties or corrective action has been sought due to difficulties asserting jurisdiction post-Rapanos.”

That same month, officials in the EPA’s Denver office sent notice to the agency’s headquarters that, “We literally have hundreds of OPA [Oil Pollution Act] cases in our ‘no further action’ file due to the Rapanos decision, most of which are oil spill cases.”

Another example: Last February, an official in the EPA’s San Francisco office announced that the agency was abandoning a case against a potential Clean Water Act violator, explaining the reason thusly:

It is time to pull the plug on keeping this case on life support. With the march of time largely attributable to the impact on the case by Senor Rapanos and his merry band of supreme court justices we had lost many many violations due to statute of limitations . . . . So we will withdraw the referral, and save our ammo for another fight.

Federal Agencies Revise Guidance to Protect Wetlands and Streams

*Agencies Revise Guidance to Protect Wetlands and Streams *

**EPA Contact: Enesta Jones, (202) 564-7873 or 4355 / jones.enesta@epa.gov
Army Contacts: Doug Garman, (202) 761-1807 or Gene Pawlik, (202) 761-7690

(Washington, D.C. - Dec. 3, 2008) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of the Army are issuing revised guidance to ensure America's wetlands, streams and other waters are better protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The guidance clarifies the geographic scope of jurisdiction under the CWA.

"We are providing improved guidance today to ensure the information is in place to fully protect the nation's streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act," said Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA's assistant administrator for water. "The guidance builds upon our experiences and provides consistent direction to our staff and the public."

"We are committed to protecting America's aquatic resources as required by the Clean Water Act and in accordance with the Supreme Court decision," said John Paul Woodley Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). "This revised interagency guidance will enable the agencies to make clear, consistent, and predictable jurisdictional determinations within the scope of the Clean Water Act."

The revised guidance replaces previous policy issued in June 2007 and clarifies a June 2006 Supreme Court decision in Rapanos v. United States regarding the scope of the agencies' jurisdiction under the CWA. The guidance follows the agencies' evaluation of more than 18,000 jurisdictional determinations and review of more than 66,000 comments.

For more information on this guidance, please visit website below.

Tahoe National Forest use plan available for comment

Many off-highway vehicle users feel the public comment period for Tahoe National Forest is is too short
By Laura Brown, Tahoe Sun News Service

Two months is too little time to respond to a complicated draft environmental plan for off-road vehicle use on the Tahoe National Forest, area county supervisors, motorcycle and environmental groups said. About 10 people from different groups relayed their concerns earlier this week about the plan at a county supervisors’ meeting.

Released late September, people have until Nov. 26 to review and provide input on the voluminous document numbering more than a 1,000 pages and weighing almost 12 pounds.

“This is an unreasonable amount of information for people to digest and comment on in a short period of time,” said Kyra, a member of the Nevada County Woods Riders. “We need more time.” Disillusioned off-road vehicle users contend the plan omits significant trails used by locals and doesn’t take into account the economic contributions the group provides to the county’s restaurants, motels and gas stations.

Environmental groups argue additional trails should not be added when the existing ones are poorly managed and impacts to water quality, wildlife and quiet recreationists are not being thoroughly enough addressed. So far, about 3,000 letters have been submitted via e-mail, with a majority coming as form letters from the San Francisco-based Wilderness Society, said Tahoe National Forest spokeswoman Ann Westling.

“There’s interest nationally, because a lot of people who don’t live in California visit the Sierra Nevada,” said Stan Van Velsor, a spokesman for The Wilderness Society, which is keeping a close tabs on eight national forests in the state that will release similar documents in coming months. The Tahoe National Forest is the second after Eldorado to release its draft environmental plan.

“That’s why we’re concerned this one be done right,” because it could become a templet for the others, Van Velsor said. Forest service officials are unlikely to grant an extension to the public comment period, because they must meet a deadline for a final plan in March, Westling said.

“It would have to be approved by the regional forester (in Vallejo). Due to the short time periods we’re under, that would be unlikely,” she said.

Long process
In the works for five years, the off highway vehicle route designation process started to address the increasing number of people who drive motorcycles, quads and vehicles criss-crossing the back country.

Interest in the route designation process has been strong, with more than 200 people attending an informational workshop in Nevada City last month.

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