Newly Inked Truckee River Agreement Already Paying Off

Jan 6, 2016

The Truckee River on Tuesday in downtown Reno.
Credit Julia Ritchey

The Truckee River has been called one of the most litigated waterways in the West. But a landmark agreement reached by federal, state, tribal and local officials last year has cleared the way to better management of the region's most valuable resource. Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey reports.

The Truckee River Operating Agreement has been more than 27 years in the making and finally puts an end to decades of court proceedings and high-level negotiations over the waterway's future.

The plan, called TROA for short, was officially implemented by the federal water master on December 1st, and already Northern Nevada is reaping dividends.

"In our first month, we've already been able to store about 2,700 acre feet in upstream reservoirs that we could never have stored at this time of the year before without TROA," says Mark Foree, general manager of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, who's been working on the agreement for eight years.

He says with TROA now in place, their agency will be able to triple its upstream reserves, which is critical during a drought cycle. 

"Without TROA, we already have, really, a great drought supply," Foree explains, "but with TROA, we'd have to say it's truly exceptional. I think the community can take comfort in that. I know that I'm sleeping better now."

Water storage is the most immediate impact, but far from the only one.

TROA settles allocations between California and Nevada, with Nevada getting 90 percent of the Truckee's water.

The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe also stands to gain from the arrangement by getting rights to store water in the Stampede Reservoir and increased protections for the lake's threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout. 

During a celebratory press conference Tuesday in downtown Reno, Tribal Chairman Vinton Hawley acknowledged that it’s been a hard-fought battle:

"And it was a really surreal moment when it was reported to us that 'This is done.' And to acknowledge it was like, I don't know, let's let it sink in because somebody may oppose it."

Senator Harry Reid was one of the driving forces behind TROA, but he was unable to attend Tuesday's conference because of the weather. He called the process difficult but says the benefits to Northern Nevada were well worth the fight.

Leo Drozdoff is the director of Nevada's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. He says that one of the best parts of the agreement is its flexibility.

"What this agreement does is it's undergirded with requirements, but it says, 'Look, in different times of the years and different weather conditions, different weather patterns, we can be far more flexible with how this water goes, so it can better serve a great number of people later.'"

Arthur Hinojosa with California's Department of Water Resources agrees:

"That kind of certainty given changing climate, given drought, is huge for the communities that are dependent on the river's flow itself, either for their livelihood or recreation or the tourism that it brings up — not to mention the use of the water itself."

Hinojosa says disagreements will likely still occur from time to time, but TROA gives a  clear avenue to resolve disputes outside of the courtroom. The agreement, he says, could even serve as a model for communities across the West that struggle with limited water resources.