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Do We Have Enough Water to Support a Population Boom?

Some experts are forecasting a population increase of up to 50,000 new residents, in Northern Nevada, over the next five to ten years. There’s been a lot of media attention paid to the topics of schools and traffic, but many Truckee Meadows residents are wondering if we have the natural resources to support a population boom on this scale. After speaking with members of our local water authorities I’ve discovered that we’re in pretty good shape, at least for the near future. Here’s why.

The Truckee River Operating Agreement: Or “TROA” is an agreement among five parties: California, Nevada, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, the Federal Government and the Truckee Meadows Water Authority “TMWA”. This legislation was originally approved by Congress in 1990 and the agreement was finally ratified by all parties in 2015. TROA governs the interstate allocation of water between Nevada and California. It controls the operations of the Truckee River system to accommodate multiple uses for drought supply, spawning flows for endangered or threatened fish species and improved water quality. Has anyone else felt a bit uncomfortable with the fact that most of our local water supply is stored in California? This agreement secures that relationship, provides for nine years of drought storage and assigns the Truckee Meadows 119,000 acre feet of water annually which is notably more that we’re using now. And it only took them 25 years!

The Honey Lake Pipeline: I was surprised to discover that this $17,800,000 project, designed to serve the North Valleys, is basically complete. TMWA has the ability to activate this 28-mile long pipeline on short notice but according to an official at Washoe County Water Resources, “Turning the pipeline on now would be like flying a Boeing 747 with 20 passengers”. The Honey Lake Pipeline will eventually provide around 8,000 acre feet of water per year and I’ve been told that the system could be ramped up to accommodate over 13,000 acre feet of water annually.

For reference, a typical single-family home in our area requires about ½ of an acre foot of water per year. According to the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Authority, we currently have a population of 436,797 residents in Washoe County and they’re projecting a population of 548,159 by 2036. Both sources I spoke to within our local water authorities felt confident in saying that our current water systems and resources could support the 2036 population as forecasted. Beyond that, it’s a bit of a gamble. According to one source, “The Honey Lake Valley Project was a tested resource, farmers have been growing alfalfa up there for over 100 years.” He went on to say, “Our projected/future water sources are unproven, therefore somewhat risky in nature.”

I guess this is the point at which I should mention water conservation, we do live in the desert after all. I’ve become much more water conscious over the past several years as have most of my friends and neighbors. I’ve noticed that many of our newer commercial developments are approved with water-friendly landscape features rather than acres of lawn. With some personal effort and public consciousness, perhaps we can avoid water scarcity in the future. It sounds like we’ve got 18 years to figure it out.

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