Successful crisis management requires preparation,foresight, and the ability to act quickly and decisively. In this issue of the Washington State edition of Irrigation Leader magazine, we speak to leaders from the Quincy-Columbia Basin Irrigation District (QCBID) and the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District (TCID) about averting a crisis when Mother Nature creates a challenge.
QCBID is a massive district, serving 255,000 irrigated acres, in the heart of the Columbia Basin Project. Last year, I was visiting with QCBID General Manager Darvin Fales when a lightning strike ignited a wildfire. The fire put some of QCBID’s power infrastructure at risk, threatening the operation of the district’s water delivery system. Mr. Fales recounts how the district’s backup power generators were essential in keeping the QBCID system going after the wildfire temporarily knocked out the district’s main power supply.
TCID knows crisis management. It has been 10 years since the breach of the Truckee Canal, which flooded hundreds of homes in the city of Fernly, Nevada, and surrounding agricultural lands. It has been 10 tense years of investigations, accusations, and litigation, tearing at the seams of the agricultural community in northwestern Nevada. Fortunately, communities heal. And sometimes, a crisis can bring communities closer together.
Truckee-Carson Irrigation District (TCID) is at the center of agriculture in northwestern Nevada. TCID operates and maintains the Newlands Project, one of the first projects built under the Reclamation Act of 1902. The project includes the Lahontan Reservoir and more than 300 miles of drains and canals, which provide irrigation water from the Truckee and Carson Rivers to 57,000 acres in the Lahontan Valley.
The Sierra Nevada had record rainfall in 2017, which filled reservoirs in desperate need of water due to years of drought. For TCID, the overabundance of precipitation posed a real challenge: Lahontan Reservoir levels rose
to dangerously high levels. But, like all good irrigation districts, TCID, in conjunction with the Bureau of Reclamation, state agencies, and county and local government, provided leadership and real solutions to move nearly 200,000 acre-feet of water out of the Lahontan Reservoir and away from the cities of Fernly and Fallon.
Hand in hand with its local and state leaders and federal partners, TCID built a new spillway and weir to divert the excess water from one of its canals. With the support of a farmers brigade, the district dug a 16-mile, 60-foot-wide ditch to move water from Carson Lake into the low-lying desert. These are the kinds of can-do solutions that save lives.
TCID General Manager Rusty Jardine and Board President Ernie Schank discuss TCID’s efforts to prevent flooding in the Lahontan Valley and preserve water for its farmers and how those efforts built good will in the community. TCID intends to build off that good will to sustain its farmers, its economy, and its community.
Mr. Schank explained, “We have to sustain both the ecosystem and the community for the future, and that will require some modernization, but it has to be done with an eye to how it will affect people who live here. If we can do that, the project may well be here sustaining this region for another 100 years.”
Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@waterstrategies.com.