Tides rise for Honey Lake
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, who was instrumental in killing the Honey Lake water importation project, said last week he is undecided on a new incarnation of the plan.

A Honey Lake plan proposed in the late 1980s and early ’90s by Bay Area lawyer Franklyn Jeans and his Western Water Development Company would have brought water from northern California to Nevada to fuel growth in the valleys north of Reno.

The plan was advanced at a time when water transfers in the West were drawing rising opposition, but it attracted support from numerous Washoe County leaders and financial powers. The county government spent more than $5 million in public funds promoting and studying the project, and Pittsburgh venture capitalist Thomas Wright invested $15 million in it.

But the project aroused wide grass-roots opposition from citizens and community groups. Eventually Reid, the Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe, California’s Lassen County, the U.S. Army’s Sierra Army Depot, and the city governments of Reno and Sparks came out against the project. Reid, a close ally of the Clinton administration, urged federal action against the project, and in March 1994, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt shut down the permitting process for the project and halted work on an environmental-impact statement.

Four years later, U.S. Filter Corporation attempted to gain control of the Fish Springs Ranch, which brought with it the water rights owned by the importation project, but the deal fell through. Two years after that, the Vidler Water Company of LaJolla, Calif., completed a purchase of Fish Springs, and it is now lobbying Washoe County to revive the project. It proposes to supply 10,734 acre-feet of water to Washoe.

Reid, the assistant Democratic floor leader of the Senate, said Vidler has been more politically deft than the original Wright/Jeans company, which he said ignored important affected segments of western Nevada’s population, particularly Native Americans.

“It was difficult because they had ignored the Indians and were bound and determined that the Paiutes meant nothing to the whole project,” Reid said. Tribal officials told Reid, he said, that Vidler “has reached out to them and is working with them, and that’s a help.”

Reid said Vidler representatives have met with him several times, and it appears they are well-heeled financially. He said he was never sure the earlier company could sustain the budget for the project.

“And I’m willing to take a look at it,” he said. “I mean, I thought the other [company] was a … shoe-string operation, and I was able to work with Secretary Babbitt to have him kill the program. We’ll see this time if that’s necessary. … Interbasin transfers are not something we can look at lightly.”

Reid declined comment on a second water proposal before the Washoe County Commission, under which the Intermountain Water Supply proposes to move 3,500 acre-feet of water from Dry Valley and Bedell Flats to Stead and Lemmon Valley. He said he is not familiar with the plan and has had no contact with its sponsors.

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...