Photo By David Robert Water sources like the Truckee River are becoming a subject of political conflict in this year’s election. Sparks Mayor Geno Martini accused anti-sprawl activists of misrepresenting planning numbers used by local governments.

For months, advocates of tying growth in this region to the available water have claimed that local government officials are planning for a population of more than a million people, which is generally considered well outside what water supplies will sustain.

Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada made that charge in March when a group of local residents took out two initiative petitions to try to control sprawl. It has been made on a number of other occasions, as well.

Earlier this month an apparently exasperated Sparks Mayor Geno Martini sent an essay to this newspaper and the Reno Gazette-Journal, both of which published it. The essay starts, “I would like to categorically state that the Truckee Meadows Regional Plan DOES NOT project a population of 1.2 million people in the region by 2030 (or beyond) as reported in the media and implied by a citizens’ initiative regarding water and growth.”

To make sure no one mistook to who he was referring, Martini wrote, “A group of citizens is circulating a petition to place a question on the 2008 ballot to ensure that the Truckee Meadows Regional Plan is based on sustainable water resources in Washoe County. The premise of the initiative would require Plan entities to plan for a population of 1.2 million people by 2030, or beyond.”

In fact, supporters of the initiative say that is not their premise, that they have accused officials of planning for 1.2 million people, but not by 2030.

Martini continued, “The Plan currently requires local governments and affected entities (the Regional Transportation Commission, Western Regional Water Commission, Washoe County School District, etc.) to plan for approximately 600,000 people in the region by 2030. Based on a methodology adopted by the Board, population forecasts will be updated every two years. An update is due this spring. Early indications are that the new 2030 forecast may be just over 600,000 people by 2030, not 1.2 million.”

In a letter to the editor, Fulkerson fired back: “Mayor Martini (and Mayor Cashell) approved spending $1 million to fund studies that indeed anticipate 1.2 million people in this region at the build-out of the regional plan. How are the additional 600,000 people supposed to water their gardens?”

The RN&R asked Fulkerson to produce any official documents he knows of that use the million-plus figure.

One item he provided is a power point-style presentation produced by the Regional Water Planning Commission for a hearing of a Nevada Legislature committee on Feb. 25. This document shows a gradually rising demand on water: “TMSA [Truckee Meadows service area] 20 year horizon, population – 750,000/Estimated water demand 236,000 afar [acre feet per annum].” A population figure of 750,000 is well above the planning figure Martini says officials are using, but it doesn’t stop there.

On the same page of the legislative committee presentation, it reads, “FSA [future service area] 100 year horizon, population 1.2 million/Estimated water demand 383,000 afar.”

In addition, Fulkerson provided a copy of a Regional Planning Commission report by staff planner Dave Ziegler to the members of the RPC. The report was prepared to tell commissioners the implications of pending amendments to the Regional Plan, amendments that were subsequently adopted.

In the report, Ziegler projects 2.5 persons per dwelling unit and provides a table listing 274,400 dwelling units under the Regional Plan as it then existed and another 195,000 on federal lands available for development if the plan was amended.

At the bottom of the table in longhand, Fulkerson wrote, “274,400 + 195,000 = 469,000 dwelling units/469,000 x 2.5 dwelling unites = 1,172,500 people.” (Fulkerson says planners were unhappy with Zeigler’s findings, and he was not offered renewal of his contract.)

Another voice has also been heard from. After Martini’s essay was published, Rancho Haven resident Sandy McGill posted a comment on it at the N&R website, accusing Martini of creating a straw man and then attributing it to supporters of the initiatives:

“I have been gathering signatures for the water and annexation petitions for the last few months, and NEVER in all that time have I or the people working with me stated or implied that Reno/Sparks have plans to go to 1.2 million by 2030. I have cited the 1.2 million, but always stressed that number was in the long-term future. We got that number from the Interim Western Regional Water Commission Report dated September 19, 2007 (to see the report, Google the title above). On the second page in the lower right corner is a chart with the title ‘Future Water Demand vs. Supply … Truckee Meadows Regional Plan ‘build-out’ water demand estimates exceed identified water resources’. The chart legend states: ‘FSA [Future Service Area] 100-year horizon, population ~1.2 million; estimated water demand 383,000 afa.’”

Noting Martini’s use of the 600,000 figure in his essay, McGill asks, “Let’s see, where have we seen that number before? Ah, yes, 600,000 is the number for which ALL of Washoe County has currently identified water resources. So, tell me, where do we get water for the growth AFTER 2030? … only 22 years away? The answer is always importation. When are we going to stop robbing Peter to pay Paul? We are not in this water crisis alone … The entire West is having problems. We cannot and SHOULD not depend on external water.”

While local officials may argue that the numbers can be read in different ways, it appears clear that the critics of sprawl were working from legitimate interpretations of those numbers when they made the claims Martini faults.

If local residents have gained the impression from government numbers that local officialdom is planning for more than a million residents, they’re not the only ones. So have journalists. Earlier this month Sue Voyles wrote in the Reno Gazette-Journal, “The water plan projects a maximum 528,456 homes, up to 1.2 million people, as the region’s ultimate size. Officials concede there’s only enough water for half of those homes.”

Voyles also reported that staff planners are “asking elected officials to downgrade the growth projections of a new water plan” in order to try to defeat the initiative petitions.

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...