TMWA Board Set To Back Off Lease Plan

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A week ago the governing board of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority voted to look into the possibility of leasing the area’s water system to a Wall Street investment band. Now, it appears that a couple of members of the board are backing away from that decision.

At those member’s urging, the board has set another meeting. The only item of consequence on the agenda for that meeting is reconsideration of last week's vote. In the space of a week, there's been input and it's apparently been persuasive.

The offer came from the investment firm of Goldman Sachs. The deal: a 50 year lease of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority's system, the company assuming $500 million dollars in bond debt and adding $100 to 160 million dollars in cash. The numbers were attractive enough that most of the board thought it worth looking at. The vote authorized a feasibility study. The lone dissenter was TMWA chairman and Sparks City Councilman Mike Carrigan who said it had taken 26 years to get the water system back into public hands and that's where he thought it should stay.

In the days that followed others are apparently finding themselves in agreement with Carrigan, significantly Sparks Mayor Geno Martini and Reno Mayor Bob Cashell.

"We've been hearing from consituents," says Cashell. "We're concerned about the employees and we don't want to do anything to jeopardize TROA."

TROA is the Truckee River Operating Agreement, a bi-state document settling a variety of complex issues concerning the Truckee's waters. It's been in the works for 2 decades and it's about to be signed by all parties. Word the possibility of a private company operating TMWA raised immediate red flags including a caution from Senator Reid's office.

A closer look convinced the mayors, the TMWA board should rethink the possibility of privatization.

"When I found out TROA was concerned and the feds were concerned I don't want to do anything," says Cashell. "Senator Reid has killed himself fighting for this over the last 20 years and so have the Indians and California, everybody involved."

The Truckee River Operating Agreement settles a number of long-time issues between California and Nevada, the cities and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe. Included in the settlement: guaranteed water to support endangered species at the Lake and drought protection for Reno and Sparks. It's due to be signed by all parties in September.

TMWA Executive Director Lori Williams resignation last week was due at least in part to the board's vote to consider a lease.

A spokeswoman says as of this point, Williams' decision still stands.