Our History

Established in 1918

The Truckee-Carson Irrigation District was formed in 1918 to work with the U. S. Reclamation Service (now the Bureau of Reclamation within the U. S. Department of Interior) to eventually assume the operation and maintenance of the Truckee Carson Project (now the Newlands Project). Prior to the turn of this century, Senator Francis G. Newlands from Nevada, was trying to establish irrigation districts in Nevada but was not having much success. President McKinley was not in favor of establishing agricultural projects in the West because he felt there was sufficient agriculture east of the Mississippi River.

In 1901, President McKinley was assassinated and Teddy Roosevelt became President. He was an utilitarian conservationist who believed that our natural resources should be used and not wasted. He supported the efforts to establish irrigation projects in the West. On June 17, 1902, President Roosevelt signed the Federal Reclamation Act.

Senator Newlands was the principal sponsor of that legislation in Congress and became known as the father of the Reclamation Act. Through his efforts, Churchill and Lyon counties became the sites of the first federal reclamation project to be authorized under the new law.

In 1903, the newly-formed Reclamation Service began construction on Derby Dam about 20 miles downstream from Reno on the Truckee River. Derby Dam and approximately 32 miles of the Truckee Canal were completed in 1905. Water was then diverted from the Truckee River to be used to irrigate lands in the Fernley, Hazen and Swingle Bench area as well as supplement the flows of the Carson River for irrigation along the lower Carson River. In 1911, the Reclamation Service began construction on Lahontan Dam which was officially dedicated as complete in 1915.

The Truckee-Carson Irrigation District is a political subdivision of the State of Nevada, organized and chartered in 1918 for the purpose of representing the water right holders within the boundaries of the Newlands Project in connection with the operation of the Project. The District was formed, and is paid for, by landowners within the boundaries of the Newlands Project who own water rights appurtenant to their land, which water rights the federal government is obligated, both contractually and statutorily, to serve. As a result, TCID’s first and fundamental obligation is to the water right owners who are its constituents – promoting their rights and defending their interest with respect to the operations of the Newlands Project.

The Truckee-Carson Irrigation District by contract with the United States took over the operation and maintenance of the Newlands Reclamation Project in January 1927. Since then, the District has been responsible for the operation and maintenance of the entire federal project which includes the dam at Lake Tahoe, Derby Dam, the Truckee Canal, Lahontan Dam and approximately 380 miles of canals and 345 miles of drains.

The District boundaries in both Churchill and Lyon counties include approximately 120,000 acres, of which approximately 73, 000 acres are water-righted. In 1996, the District and the Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Interior entered into a new operation and maintenance agreement which continues the District’s responsibility for the Newlands Reclamation Project. Under the new contract, the federal government assumes responsibility for issuing permits, leases and licenses for the federal lands that were originally withdrawn from the Bureau of Land Management for uses associated with the original development of the Newlands Reclamation Project.

Thus, TCID acts in a dual capacity with respect to the Newlands Project – as the duly established and elected representative of the water right owners within the Project and as an independent contractor of the federal government in the operation and management of the Project. In the ordinary course of day-to-day operations, this dual role creates no conflict for TCID. 

From time to time, however, a conflict may arise. When the federal government, acting through the Bureau of Reclamation, promulgates a rule or regulation, or issues an edict under those rules and regulations, which the District believes is arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or contrary to law – thus violating the rights or impairing the interests of project water right owners – TCID must support the water right owners and oppose the action of the United States. (The latter scenario has unfortunately become more and more common during the last twenty years or so, as the federal government, in league with others, has sought to constrict agricultural use of water in favor of users that are more “politically correct.”)

During a normal water year, the District delivers water to about 2,500 water users and delivers 215,000 acre feet of water primarily for agricultural use. The water supply is provided by the Truckee River at Derby Dam and the storage of water at Lahontan Reservoir is 300,000 acre feet. The Truckee River originates at lake Tahoe which stores up to six feet of water behind the dam for providing flows all year long – normally – to the Truckee River. The Truckee River serves the agricultural interests in the Reno/Sparks area, those interests below Reno along the Truckee River, the agricultural lands at Pyramid Lake, and then it is available for diversion at Derby Dam for Project uses. 

The Project is generally the last priority for diversion of water from the Truckee River. Lahontan Dam is, for the most part, the last priority on the Carson River. In addition, the District owns the storage at Donner Lake which is used to supplement the water supply for the Project water users.

The District employs about 55 individuals and has an annual operating budget of about $3.5 million. It is estimated that agriculture contributes 30% to 40% of the current economy of Churchill County. If you are interested in learning more about the Project and its history, there is an excellent book entitled, “Turn This Water Into Gold – the Story of the Newlands Project” written by John M. Townley which was published by the Nevada Historical Society. The book is available for sale for $15.00 at the District’s office. A video is available for sale at the Churchill County Museum for $10.00. However, if you purchase both the book and video, the cost is $20.00, a savings of $5.00.

Click here to read more about the History of the Newlands Project.

A History in Pictures