Big water year for Lovelock Valley farmers
Tuesday, March 14, 2017 1:00 AM
As the swollen Humboldt River fills the Rye Patch Reservoir for the first time in years, Lovelock Valley farmers can expect a full water allotment for their crops in 2017. Last week, the Pershing County Water Conservation District set the maximum irrigation water delivery at three acre-feet.
The Humboldt River overflowed its banks in the last couple of weeks. Areas along the river have been under a flood warning or watch since January. Weather forecasts for the next few weeks include lots of sunshine and warmer temperatures — and little to no precipitation.
The reservoir had been steadily rising by more than 2500 acre-feet per day but the rate varies according to upstream weather, snow melt and flow rates in the Humboldt River. Last Monday, the lake's volume had increased over the weekend from more than 57,000 acre-feet to about 64,980 acre-feet. The reservoir's maximum capacity is over 195,000 acre-feet with additional storage of 40,000 acre-feet or more available in the older Upper and Lower Pitt Taylor Reservoirs just north of Rye Patch Reservoir.
The irrigation season start date was officially set by the board for March 15 with an ending date of November 15 but work on the system may delay the start of water deliveries. Canal and lateral gates were in need of repair and some water may be released at the dam to help flush weeds and other debris out of the irrigation system, PCWCD Manager Bennie Hodges told the board of directors last week.
Big water year
As a result of local precipitation, some farmers at the meeting said their fields were still too soggy for planting or other field preparation work and may not be ready for irrigation water until late March. Other farmers said the water is needed right away for certain crops planted last fall such as wheat.
Hodges compared this year's upstream snow pack, downstream river run-off and reservoir levels with past seasons. To stay ahead of incoming water and avoid possible flooding below Rye Patch Dam, he recommended controlled water releases in addition to the normal releases needed for irrigation. If the reservoir reaches full capacity, there could be no choice but to dump a larger amount of excess water.
“We're going to have a lot of water,” he said. “I think we should be releasing 500 feet of water. I'd rather release a smaller amount over a longer period of time rather than release a large amount over a short period of time. There's 140,000 acre-feet in the river now. I think we'll see 110,000 acre-feet.”
Hodges presented a new set of expanded regulations for the 2017 irrigation season due to past problems with distribution. Water will not be delivered to water righted ground until tax assessments have been paid in full according to the rules. When water is requested, farmers must accept delivery anytime of the day or night and water cannot be held by irrigators more than 12 hours after the water shut off time.
Farmers must have flow measuring devices at their water delivery point and clean, well-maintained diversion gates and ditches. According to the new regulations, the irrigation district will not tolerate unnecessary waste of water due to clogged, overflowing ditches, field run-off or leaking head gates.
“Water users guilty of such waste shall have their water shut off immediately,” according to the rules. Field drainage back into main irrigation ditches or canals is also “strongly discouraged” by the district.
After a soft start unit and more wiring are installed, the new hydroelectric power plant at Rye Patch Dam will be need a “bump test” as required by NV Energy. The power plant should be ready for production by April 1, well before the final deadline of April 28 according to project consultant Larry Rackley. PCWCD should then qualify for NV Energy's green energy incentive rebate minus costs.
“There's another agreement that we have to come up with and that's for how much they pay the water district for the power that you send into the system,” Rackley said. “I thought it was established in the original contract but it isn't in there.”
He said the contract with NV Energy will be a power purchase agreement not a net metering agreement. It could be months before the final contract is signed and power production begins.
“They want to sit down and go over this agreement,” Rackley said. “It's the same thing as they would have if they were contracting to buy power from a geothermal power plant.”