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The Truckee Meadows water system: a network of upstream supplies bolsters drought resiliency (sponsored)


A remarkable agreement.

That’s what Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) leaders call the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA), because it puts the region in a much better position to manage its water supply through drought. 

This year is the first drought season the region has experienced since the agreement was signed in 2015, and it has meaningfully improved the way it can manage its upstream reservoirs.

“We had roughly 28,000 acre feet of storage before TROA,” said TMWA’s Andy Gebhardt, Director of Operations and Water Quality. “And with 28,000 acre feet, we were comfortable. We had plenty of storage during the last drought (2015).”

But with TROA in effect, TMWA’s water reserves this summer have almost doubled.

“Now we have 53,000 acre feet,” Gebhardt added. “It just magnified what TROA has done. You can’t overstate it.”

This storage is even more important when the annual snowpack in the Sierra fluctuates. During dry years when there is minimal natural flow in the Truckee River, water stored in reservoirs such as Prosser, Stampede and Boca is available for release to be used by TMWA customers. 

“Water conservation is smart, especially when we live in the high desert.”

In the summers, groundwater also comes online to supplement the supply until demand lessens when cooler months arrive. This helps to reduce what is released upstream. 

“For over 20 years we’ve been building upon a conjunctive use strategy that uses surface and groundwater in a coordinated way, which has made our water system more resilient.” said Bill Hauck, Senior Hydrologist at TMWA. “We’ll use groundwater to supplement supply when demand is higher, then when demand decreases we use that opportunity to rest our wells so groundwater can recharge.” 

The community-owned water utility runs projections annually for how much water the Truckee Meadows will need in the future. Additionally, an in-depth water resource management plan is published every five years that is presented to the TMWA’s Board of Directors for approval.

Gebhardt notes that even with the worst snowpack projections going out decades, TMWA’s water resources will continue to provide for the community into the future and in consideration of growth that has been projected for the region.

To help the public understand more how water is managed in the community, TMWA’s Smart About Water website was created for just that purpose.

Why conservation is always needed

Residents are required to water on designated days, and TMWA’s water watchers work with residents to ensure proper watering and fix leaks and irrigation systems to function properly.

Just because you have $1,000 in the bank doesn’t mean you should take it out and spend it. That’s the analogy Gebhardt uses. When the region is in a drought, the banked water can flow into the Truckee River when it’s most needed.

“Water conservation is smart, especially when we live in the high desert,” he explained. “The community has had a strong conservation ethic for years. We’ve had assigned day watering since the mid-’80s. It was voluntary in the mid-’80s. In the mid-’90s, it became mandatory back when we were owned by Sierra Pacific.”

The utility’s water watchers serve an educational role, not a punitive one. Going to metered water, and mandatory watering days, provides TMWA opportunities to work with residents. If a household is using an abnormally high amount of water, TMWA staff can help identify inefficiencies or leaks in the residence’s system.

It’s as much about helping the greater community to conserve as well as helping individual consumers use water wisely to save on their water bill.

Water meters were required of all customers in 2015.  “We found people, if they had leaks and they were metered, they jumped on fixing those leaks in a heartbeat,” Gebhardt said. “It’s one of the main reasons our per capita usage has decreased 30% since the early 2000s.

Smart water use, increased efficiency in the water system and upstream storage all work together to ensure Truckee Meadows residents have the necessary amount of water well into the future.

“The community has a diverse portfolio of water resources, a system that is resilient, and a proactive approach to water resource management and planning” Gebhardt added. “We feel pretty good about that.”

Learn more

Learn more about water conservation in the Truckee Meadows by visiting Smart About Water.

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