Click here for Q&A from the 11/10/21 Warm Springs Community Advisory Board meeting

What is a feasibility study?

A feasibility study is an analysis of a proposed project to consider whether it is viable and practical, and if it will be effective. Such an analysis evaluates numerous criteria which are used to determine if the project can be successfully implemented. Criteria include engineering, hydrogeology, water quality, and cost-benefit assessments. And, in this case, the feasibility study will be accompanied by community outreach and educational activities, to promote public awareness and understanding of the project.

What is the project being evaluated?

The Palomino Farms Sustainable Water Resource Feasibility Study will explore the coordinated use of surface water, groundwater, and recycled water to enhance the community’s water resources. Currently, groundwater pumped from the Palomino Valley aquifer is used to irrigate farmland. The proposed project would bring recycled water to the area for use in farmland irrigation, to significantly reduce reliance on groundwater.

As an additional part of the project, potable water would be brought in through a separate pipeline and then pumped underground to replenish the Palomino Valley aquifer in the winter when water is more plentiful. The potable water imported to the area would be strictly for groundwater basin replenishment – not to connect domestic wells or otherwise be used as a municipal water source.

Both of these enhancements would improve local groundwater levels, and help preserve farmland and open space, which would assist in maintaining the rural lifestyle and character of the area.

Why is this project being evaluated, and what are its benefits?

The groundwater basin in the Palomino Valley area has historically been over-used, with water levels dropping over 100 feet in some areas over the past 50 years, threatening its long-term viability. Using imported recycled water for agricultural irrigation would reduce pumping from the groundwater basin, allowing the aquifer to “rest.”

There are naturally-occurring water quality issues with the groundwater, such as arsenic and fluoride. Replenishing the groundwater basin with potable water will help restore higher water levels and could improve overall water quality. The aquifer has the potential to store large quantities of water when it is plentiful, some of which could be withdrawn in the future during dry or high-demand periods. All of our water resources are and would continue to be carefully managed in a manner that promotes long-term sustainability.

Who benefits from this project?

We all do. Palomino Valley will remain an agricultural area preserving a rural lifestyle. Domestic well owners could benefit from improved groundwater levels, groundwater quality may be improved, and recycled water will be used beneficially. Water resources will be brought into balance and sustainably managed, thereby improving the overall regional water supply, both in the near future and in the long-term.

What is recycled water and is it safe?

Recycled water is highly treated wastewater that has been cleaned, filtered, and disinfected to remove impurities, and has been safely used for farmland irrigation for over 50 years in the United States. Its use is quite common throughout the country, on play fields for children, golf courses, landscape irrigation, industrial cooling towers, and various other uses in addition to farmland irrigation. Best management practices are used to apply appropriate amounts of water based on the type of soil and the crop being irrigated.

Where else is recycled water used to irrigate farmland?

There are numerous places around the country where recycled water is used for farmland irrigation. Recycled water is used in Washington, Texas, Arizona, Florida, and many other states for irrigating a variety of edible food crops, as well as silage and alfalfa. One of the most well-known is Monterey County, California where over 12,000 acres of edible crops such as strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, and artichokes are irrigated with recycled water. This area is known as the salad bowl of the nation for its production of many, high-quality food crops. In northern California, recycled water is used to irrigate a variety of grapes in vineyards of some of the nation’s top wineries.

Who is involved and how will the study be paid for?

The Feasibility Study will be funded by Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA) in collaboration with Reno, Sparks, and Washoe County. This combined group, working together under the umbrella OneWater Nevada initiative, intends to perform all work required to complete the Feasibility Study pursuant to an Interlocal Agreement outlining each group’s respective obligations and responsibilities regarding the Study. There will also be involvement from the University of Nevada, Reno to research and evaluate some aspects of the use of recycled water as proposed in the Feasibility Study.

How can I stay informed about the study and future project?

Fill out this online form to receive email updates about the status of the Feasibility Study and any future related activities.

What are TMWA’s plans for withdrawing stored water and where will that water will be pumped to?

TMWA has a long history of injecting treated surface water into groundwater aquifers during the winter months when customer demand is lower, and then using that stored water during summer months when demand is much higher. The same idea could apply in Palomino Valley with treated surface water being injected into the aquifer to bank for a future use.

Stored water could be used to support Spanish Springs during peak summer demands or during droughts. The amount of water injected or withdrawn would be carefully monitored by TMWA and the State Engineer’s office with hydrogeological factors determining how much could be withdrawn versus what was injected.

Warm Springs Valley is a separate water basin from the Truckee Meadows.  What are the thoughts of the State Engineer’s office and Pyramid Lake Tribe on the matter of inter-basin water transfers?

The feasibility of permitting an inter-basin transfer from Warm Springs to Spanish Springs is one of the key questions we will address as part of the overall sustainable water resource feasibility study evaluation.

How is the recharge water measured and monitored to determine the amount of banked water that can be withdrawn at a later date?

The amount of water injected and withdrawn from the aquifer would be measured by a meter and reported to the State Engineer’s office. The percentage of available water to be withdrawn will be based on hydrogeologic properties, groundwater modeling and time passed after injection. The feasibility study is examining all of these factors.

 The study is looking at the potential for Reno, Sparks and Washoe County to provide recycled water for irrigation purposes and for TMWA to inject potable water into the aquifer to support peak summer use or provide drought reserves for Spanish Springs. Our preliminary analysis indicates the aquifer is unconfined, meaning excess irrigation water does have the potential to reach it. However, irrigation would be managed so any seepage would be very minor and not negatively impact water quality.

The sources of water that would be available to support demands or drought reserves in Spanish Springs would be partially injected water and partially the naturally-occurring recharge that results from the farms switching to recycled water for irrigation.  Establishing exactly how much water this would be is also part of the feasibility study. More water will be added to, or retained in, the aquifer than will be removed. This could result in improved water levels for some area well owners.

Who monitors the recharge and recycled water quality and on what schedule?

Currently, TMWA holds recharge permits (also known as aquifer storage and recovery) for numerous drinking water wells within the Truckee Meadows. The permits require TMWA to monitor and report the quality of injected and withdrawn water at various frequencies based on specific State permit requirements. TMWA’s recharge water meets all national primary and secondary drinking water standards, including metals, ions, and disinfection byproducts.  Information from this feasibility study will be useful in creating a water quality monitoring plan specific to Palomino Farms.

Recycled water has been safely used for irrigation in the Truckee Meadows for decades and provides about 10% of the total water supply for the region. The recycled water provided for irrigation in Palomino Valley would be a mix of water from the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility (TMWRF) and South Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility (STMWRF). TMWRF is a Category B facility, and STMWRF is a Category A facility based on water quality levels regulated by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. Spray irrigation of agricultural land is an allowable use of both Category A and B recycled water. Recycled water would initially be used for alfalfa irrigation.  Irrigation of food crops is limited to Category A with the possibility of required additional treatment depending on the specific food crop to be irrigated.

Would this impact Pyramid Lake?

Based on current modeling estimates, less than 100 acre-feet per year of groundwater flows from Warm Springs Valley through Mullen Pass to Pyramid Lake as compared to over 400,000 acre-feet per year that flows into the lake from the Truckee River.  Groundwater flow to Pyramid Lake from Warm Springs has likely declined over the last five decades as groundwater levels declined from pumping.  As TMWA replenishes the groundwater basin with potable water, over time, groundwater levels may increase, thereby reversing the trend in lower groundwater flows to Pyramid Lake.

Why isn’t TMWA simply banking water in Spanish Springs?

TMWA currently recharges the aquifer on the east side of Spanish Springs through a number of production wells during winter months. This banked water helps sustain the water table when summer pumping demands occur. Based on groundwater modeling efforts, TMWA has a goal of recharging 2,000 annual acre feet on the east side of Spanish Springs to maintain the water table. The groundwater quality on the west side of Spanish Springs contains high concentrations of nitrate and the water table is already high; therefore, our focus for recharge is on the east side.

How does this differ from Washoe County’s Golden Valley Aquifer Recharge Program and will Palomino Valley residents have to pay a recharge fee?

Washoe County administers the Golden Valley Aquifer Recharge Program to address declining water levels and water quality issues in Golden Valley, not Sun Valley. The program has been in place since 2002 and domestic well owners pay a fee to Washoe County for this program. The Palomino Valley aquifer recharge concept differs from Golden Valley based on what happens to the water once it is injected. The Palomino Valley concept could withdraw a portion of the injected water to meet peak Spanish Springs summer demands; Golden Valley injected water is not withdrawn by TMWA or Washoe County and specifically addresses declining water levels in domestic wells. There will be no fees for Palomino Valley residents as a result of this project. TMWA provides potable, drinking water to Washoe County for the Golden Valley recharge program.

Are you using pre-existing monitoring wells on the property that the Nevada Department of Water Resources use to monitor the Warm Springs Hydrographic basin?

We are using the groundwater level data collected on a semi-annual basis by the Nevada Division of Water Resources. In addition, TMWA installed automated water level measurement instruments in a dozen wells on Palomino Farms and LW Land property with measurements taken on an hourly basis. We are currently in the process of installing eight new wells to collect groundwater level and quality data.

The area is in the middle of a FEMA designated flood zone. What prevention measures will be in place to prevent flooding impacts?

The flooding potential and ways to mitigate flooding impacts are questions we will address as part of the overall sustainable water resource feasibility study evaluation.

Previous water level studies have shown high levels of nitrates in the surrounding area. Will OneWater Nevada consider these studies?

A total of 36 reports, studies, and publications were used during the development of the preliminary hydrogeologic assessment of the Palomino Farms site.  These studies include a more recent (2001) geophysical study, a groundwater model developed by Wyn Ross, and other studies relevant to the site.

The interlocal agreement mentions possible lease or purchase of the property by TMWA. Should this occur, what would TMWA be doing other than injecting water via transport and extracting water doing transport? Would not the farmers have sold the land? Is the Turf Farm involved in this project along with Murphy and Capurro who own the property formerly known as the Pratt properties?

Different options for leasing and/or ownership of the Palomino Farms and LW Land Company property will be evaluated as part of the overall sustainable water resource feasibility study.

As conceived, Reno, Sparks and Washoe County would provide recycled water to allow the land to continue to be farmed rather than developed.

TMWA would replenish the groundwater basin with potable water and withdraw water when needed to support peak summer use or provide drought reserves for Spanish Springs.

The Murphy LW Land Company property is a part of this evaluation.  The Turf Farm property is not presently a part of this concept; however, they have cooperated with initial water quality sampling efforts. For more detail see: Map of Feasibility Study Area and Conveyance System

Why would TMWA decide to purchase rather than lease the property owned by Palomino Farms LLC and LW Land Company?

The main rational for TMWA considering purchasing the land rather than leasing it is one of priority. If TMWA leases it, the irrigation needs of the agricultural enterprise would come first and may not be consistent with what the project is trying to achieve in terms of sustainably managing the water of the Warm Springs Basin. By purchasing the land, farming operations could continue but irrigation would then be conducted with the needs of the project put first.