Water Rights

There have been many inquiries about the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District’s method of assessment for operation and maintenance of the Federal Newlands Reclamation Project.

In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that although the water rights were acquired for the Project by the United States, they (the U.S.) did so for distribution to individuals who contracted with the United States for water rights. The landowner became the beneficial owner of the water right and the government’s interest in the water right was then only nominal. The government retained the right to receive payment for the cost of construction of the project. The federal government as the owner of the Project canals, drains and reservoirs also is entitled to have the operation and maintenance costs and expenses paid by the water right owners of the Project.

The government did not appropriate the water for its use but for the use of landowners and the property right in the water became distinct and separate from the property right in canals, drains and reservoirs. The water belongs to the water right owner and the District is responsible for delivering that water. The United States and the District have a responsibility to the water right holder to act in good faith in trying to get water to the water user. There are certain limitations however, such as the laws and regulations regarding the use and the distribution of water. In addition, there are natural limitations such as the size and capacities of canals and reservoirs as well as the available supply of water that is determined by “Mother Nature.”

The District operates and maintains the canals, drains and reservoirs. The District also monitors upstream water use and diversions to determine and preclude any interference with the water users water right or water supply. Since the water users of the Newlands Project are junior in priority to most other users on the Truckee and Carson Rivers, the District is constantly dealing with other water users to minimize any interference with the flow of water to the Project.

The water users are not charged for the amount of water they use. The District has established a rate for operation and maintenance of the Project facilities. That rate is not sufficient to properly maintain the system the way some would like to see, but it is a fair rate in light of the growing season and types of crops that can be grown in the Project.

In an attempt to keep the O&M assessments from increasing even more, the District has implemented budget review procedures that concentrate on not increasing rates but concentrating on reducing expenses and keeping the assessments constant even though we live in an ever increasing inflationary economy.

The past budget year we have not hired replacements for several employees that the District has lost which equates to about $200,000 in savings. We have reduced our insurance costs by at least $30,000. We have reduced some maintenance costs and continue to review most items for cost savings. We have sold and continue to sell old equipment and land that the District has acquired from non-payment of assessments and we are doing work requested by the Bureau of Reclamation that we are getting reimbursed for. These items as well as revenues from grazing and the lease of the electrical franchise help to defray the cost of operating and maintaining the Project works.

The business of the District goes beyond the actual costs of delivering water. As you can see, it entails maintenance of the system, improvements to the system as efficiency requirements increase; administration of water records, land records, assessment records, budget, labor and, of course, monitoring the upstream uses of water.