Gambling on Truckee Meadows water supply

Truckee River at the Plaza in downtown river in August 2014

On Sunday, September 28, 2014, the Reno Gazette-Journal published a headline story by Jeff DeLong: “Cusp of a Crisis” laying out the uncertain future for Reno-Sparks water supply.  Therein the Truckee Meadows Water Authority says it is relying on the “history” of the Truckee River to “pop us out of this drought cycle.”

But as we’ve written before, can we really rely on the past flows of the river to predict the future as each decade is warmer than the last?  Delong provides the stats demonstrating that the concern for water supply is real, but doesn’t write how the community will deal with it.  TMWA seems to be just spinning the roulette wheel.

  • Lake Tahoe at 1.2″ above its rim (Sept 30, 9 cubic feet per second (CFS) flows out)
  • Boca, Stampede, and Prosser Reservoirs at 19%, 25%, and 26% of capacity
  • TMWA’s drought storage reservoirs Donner and Independence at 66% and 91% of capacity (which in actual water is a little less than 22,000 acre-feet)
  • Customers reduced their use – TMWA claims by 10% saving 1,150 acre-feet – but leaves out if this is compared to last year or last month
  • The river at Farad is flowing at 100 CFS and 57 CFS through Reno (“normal” at Farad would be 5 times greater at 500 CFS).
  • TMWA serves 93,000 customers – 73,873 residential customers have water meters
  • Washoe County Water Resources Department and South Truckee Meadows General Improvement District will soon be merged into TMWA giving it 115,000 customers (basically, all the houses and businesses in the Reno-Sparks area)
  • 4,469 residential customers are still on a “flat rate”; they pay $100.63 per month regardless of how much water they use

Delong reported that Mike Carrigan, who serves on the TMWA board, favors requiring all TMWA customers be metered – especially important now that the drought has so reduced water supplies.  Water meters for all customers are long overdue. Delong wrote that the average flat rate customer (not metered) uses more than twice as much water as an average metered customer – 282,000 gallons compared to 124,000 gallons – per year presumably, although it isn’t stated in the article.

There are some big water users out there, too.  In 2013 one residence used 6.1 million gallons of water and another used 4 million gallons.  The 91st person on the list used nearly 900,000 gallons in 2013.  Should a single residence be using enough water to support 50 residential customers?  Should there be no limit for water use as long as the customer can afford it?

As interesting as reporting the top 100 water users is, the real issue is that the more water all of us use, the less water is available for the Truckee River which is the keystone of our community and the life-blood for fish and wildlife from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake.

River at John Champion Park in mid-August 2014

River at John Champion Park in mid-August 2014

While meters are critically important to any water conservation program, without the proper rate structure and commitment by the water agency to set the rates to conserve water, customers have no reason to think about how much water they use. We discussed before that the current metered water rate structure does little to conserve water.

No one knows what the weather will bring this winter; and that’s just the point.  With our high per person water use, Reno-Sparks residents are victims of the gamblers mantra: “I’m feeling lucky.”

Is that a good way to run a community?

RGJ identified that some excessive water use comes from an unsuspected leak. Suspect a leak indoors or outdoors at your house is wasting water?  Call the Truckee Meadows Water Authority at 775-834-8005 to set up a water audit or if you’d like to try to find a suspected leak on your own go to TMWA’s website here.

This entry was posted in Conserve, Keep it flowing on by .

About Dennis Ghiglieri

My concern for the Truckee River grew over the years. It started with picking up trash and supporting better water quality. I helped create the "living river"plan with other citizens on the Community Flood Coalition; a plan to reduce flood impacts to infrastructure through river restoration and protection of the floodplain. I understand how critical the Truckee River is to the environment – and economy – of our entire region. I'm hoping that through these pages we can all understand our connection to the Truckee River and why we need to protect it.