Water Authority to Tap Drought Reserves

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Reno is starting to run low on water and, for the first time in a decade, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority plans to dip into its drought reserves to keep taps flowing in the Reno-Sparks area.

The authority's general manager, Lori Williams, said nobody's panicking, but after five dry years, the drought plan is needed. She added that there is plenty of water to serve the area even if the drought extends for several more years.

The authority also intends to launch an aggressive conservation campaign that will include expanded patrols for water-wasters and possible fines for violators.

The region has received below-normal amounts of precipitation since the winter of 1999-2000, with the Truckee River Basin getting 82 percent of normal this year, according to the National Weather Service.

The outlook is for stream runoff in the Truckee River Basin to be 58 percent of normal and utility officials expect Lake Tahoe to dip below its natural rim in late September or early October at the latest, cutting off the primary flow into the Truckee River.

Water flowing from other reservoirs will help keep the river running for a time but ultimately, "there will be sections of the river that will be going dry, basically," Williams said.

The conservation campaign will involve expanded public education efforts and stepped-up patrols by utility officials who can issue penalties costing up to $75 to water wasters. So far this summer, 1,356 warnings have been issued along with 50 penalties of $25 and six of $75, which are added on to water bills.

Chronic wasters can also be forced to connect to water meters, which bill based on the amount of water used.

"You haven't heard us say drought, drought, drought yet," Williams said. "This is when we will really start."