Homeowners, Golf Course Wrangle Over Water

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The newest water war on the range is pitting a group of homeowners and an exclusive golf course.

Residents of Pleasant and Steamboat valleys south of Reno are asking the state engineer to reopen applications granting the Montreux Golf & Country Club the right to use 422 acre-feet of Galena Creek water.

They say there won't be enough water for their pastures because of the water being taken by the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course that hosts the Reno-Tahoe Open.

Plans also call for a new golf course at the nearby Callamont Estates subdivision to use Galena Creek water.

"You are going to have a new range war, the farmers and ranchers against the golf courses," said Rick Taras, president of the Big Ditch Co.

He said the ditch that circles half of Pleasant Valley was cut off last June, three to four months earlier than usual.

"I didn't have any pasture for my horses," Taras told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "I had 10 head of cattle and my neighbor had 80. It's either sell them or find another pasture."

Montreux officials defend their water rights, citing the importance of the golf course to the local economy.

Montreux provides 172 jobs for a $2.5 million annual payroll and generates $320,000 a year in local and state tax revenues. The Reno-Tahoe Open in August raises $300,000 for local charities.

"It is in the public interest," said George Thiel, a consulting engineer for Montreux. "The course is open space and wildlife uses its open spaces for corridors. I can't see where that's occurring within the agricultural uses and practices in that (other) area."

Dave Wathen of the U.S. Federal Water Master's Office, which regulates water diversions on the creek, questioned whether Montreux is to blame for the problem.

"It's easy to put the blame on a new user upstream of everybody when the creek gets low," he said. "These are also dry years and the creek is going to be low."

But John Rhodes, a Washoe County deputy district attorney who lives in Pleasant Valley, disagreed.

"The drought isn't even a factor. We have seen this huge change since 1997" when Montreux opened, he said.