State To Curb Pumping In Smith, Mason Valleys

Oct 7, 2015

Farmer Darrell Pursel asks about a pending curtailment order during a state hearing in Carson City on Wednesday.
Credit Julia Ritchey

After four years of drought, the state wants to restrict the amount of groundwater being pumped for agriculture in the Smith and Mason valleys.  Reno Public Radio’s Julia Ritchey reports.

Farmers have already voluntarily cut back on their use of these supplemental wells, which they've relied more heavily on due to lack of surface water from the parched Walker River.

But Jason King, the state engineer, says it isn't enough in these dry conditions.

"To sit on our hands and do nothing and wait for the drought to finally be over just is not acceptable to us," he says. “We’re trying to base this curtailment, we are basing it, on what we believe is the best available science.”

That's why King's office is finishing a draft order this month that seeks to limit groundwater loss, which will go into effect during next year’s irrigation season.

Here’s the catch, farmers won’t actually know what those final restrictions will be until next spring. That’s when the state will measure the amount of precipitation from the winter to determine groundwater cuts.

At a state hearing this week in Carson City, farmers and ranchers argued that this could significantly harm their bottom lines.

Attorney Paul Taggart represents a group against curtailment.

"And as much as the state engineer can rely upon droughts to say that we need to do curtailment, my clients rely on the drought as the evidence that we need this water,” he says. “We need this water now more than we ever do."

Taggart's clients schallenged a similar order issued last year that never went into effect.