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"Unprecedented Decline" Prompts State To Cut Water For Yerington Farmers

Many farmers in and around Yerington are being ordered to cut their water usage in half this growing season. 
As far as State Engineer Jason King knows, this is the first time they've ever told farmers to stop pumping groundwater.

"What we are seeing in these two particular basins, Smith and Mason Valley, are just unprecedented water declines. They're the steepest on record."

So to avoid widespread well failure throughout the valleys, King has cut in half all supplemental water rights--supplemental because they're only supposed to be a last resort for when the Walker River is dry, and farmers must pump groundwater instead.

The problem is, King says, farmers have been relying solely on this groundwater in recent years, and now the aquifers are running low. Wells are dropping by 8 feet or more every year.

"In these prolonged drought years, more pumping is occurring. These supplemental water rights we issued decades ago are being pumped at levels we've never seen before, which only exacerbates the water decline, so we find ourselves in this position."

Irrigation requires the most water in Smith and Mason Valleys, which is why the state has singled it out. The order will not affect domestic wells or commercial water rights. 

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.