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General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits

General Description

The Humboldt Project is located in northwestern Nevada on the Humboldt River. Rye Patch Dam and Reservoir is on the Humboldt River about 22 miles upstream from Lovelock, the county seat of Pershing County. The dam stores river flows for diversion to irrigated lands.

The project lands are in Lovelock Valley, on the lower flood plains of the river in an area of approximately 45,000 acres.The Lovelock Valley has been a gateway for gold and silver prospectors since the 1860s. Farming thrives, but it is a culture separate from the comings and goings of miners, ranchers, and tourists passing through the region.

Framing project lands are the West Humboldt and Stillwater ranges to the east and the Trinity and Hot Springs Mountains to the west, the landscape of the lower river valley gently slopes from north to south, but it is almost flat in the lower reaches of the district.

Every drop of the Humboldt is precious as the average annual project rainfall is a scant 5.76 inches. Entirely contained within the borders of the state, the Humboldt River rises in the Ruby Mountains of northeastern Nevada, winding and meandering 280 miles in a southwesterly direction until it is eventually swallowed by the desert. It drains most of the northern third of Nevada with tributaries covering more than 600 miles on the ground. A spot of fertility surrounded by miles of emptiness, Lovelock Valley soil along the Humboldt is rich and productive, though saline. This desert anomaly is a mixture of sand, clay and highly organic soil.

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The Humboldt Project provides for storage at Rye Patch Dam, acquisition of lands and water rights upstream in the Battle Mountain area for supplementing the water supply for project lands, and utilization of the Pitt-Taylor Reservoirs. The plan is designed to provide seasonal and long-term regulation of the Humboldt River and to increase the amount of water available.

Facility Descriptions

Rye Patch Dam and Reservoir

The dam was completed and began storing water in 1936. A rehabilitation and betterment program in 1975 enlarged Rye Patch Dam to 78 feet high and a crest 1,074 feet long. Improvements increased the reservoir`s storage capacity by an additional 23,000 acre-feet bringing its active capacity to 213,000 acre-feet. Expansion cost the district $287,210.

Rye Patch Dam is camouflaged by its surroundings. The dam`s design has three major structural features: an embankment, outlet, and spillway. Only the concrete arches of the spillway gate detract from the natural setting.

Rye Patch Dam is an earthfill structure. A total of 322,900 cubic yards of compacted earthfill covered by 9,800 cubic yards of gravel and 36,200 cubic yards of rockfill and riprap forms the Rye Patch Dam.The foundation is a mixture of clay, sand, and fine gravel.

The spillway is 110 feet wide, 353 feet long, and its full capacity is 20,000 cubic feet per second. Five steel radial gates, 17 feet high by 20 feet wide, discharge the spillway's flow. Hoists lift the gates on the operating platform. A 30-foot wide roadway spans the top of the spillway arches.

The outlet works can release 1,000 cubic feet per second.

A trash rack covers the outlet entrance into a 12-foot diameter concrete lined circular tunnel running 472 feet where two sets of high pressure slide gates control flow into two steel discharge pipes. Inspecting and operating gates are in a gate chamber and a control house, connected by a section of the tunnel. Maximum capacity is 2,700 cubic feet per second and discharge is into the spillway stilling basin. The gate section, chute, and stilling basin are made of reinforced concrete.

 Upper Slaven Diversion Dam


Rye Patch Reservoir

Rye Patch Reservoir is 21 miles long from Rye Patch Dam north to the Callahan Bridge, near the town of Imlay. The 10,820 acre reservoir now has a capacity of 213,000 acre-feet.

Operating Agencies

The operation and maintenance of the project were transferred from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Pershing County Water Conservation District on January 15, 1941.

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Irrigation of the lands in the project area was first started in 1862. Because of the erratic natural flow, a full-season water supply without storage facilities was dependable for only a small portion of the 40,000 acres of irrigable land. During cycles of wet years, larger areas produced crops, but during dry cycles there were crop failures. Demands on the Humboldt River grew as the population increased from the 1880s to the 1920s. In 1884, during a flood season, the Oneida dam, an earthen bulwark across the lower Humboldt backed-up water into valley, destroying acres of alfalfa fields. Farmers and ranchers donned masks and dynamited the dam to reclaim the flooded land

In 1902, officials of the new United States Reclamation Service (USRS), informed settlers of Lake Tahoe, Carson and Truckee River Valleys, Carson and Humboldt Sinks and the Lovelock Valley they would soon benefit in a mammoth irrigation project covering 400,000 acres. After further study, Reclamation officials found they had overestimated the output of the Humboldt and underestimated the amount needed to irrigate vast amounts of desert acreage. The eventual project, the Truckee-Carson would service Reno, Fallon and Carson City, shutting out the people of the lower Humboldt.

The first attempt to provide storage facilities was started by the Humboldt-Lovelock Light & Power Co. which, in 1911, filed an application for 57,000 acre-feet of floodwater from the Humboldt River. This company built the two Pitt-Taylor Reservoirs. Storage in these reservoirs has been limited because of high evaporation and inferior quality water. Designed to hold 49,000 acre-feet, Pitt-Taylor now safely stores 35,000 acre-feet. The Pershing County Water Conservation District purchased the water rights in these reservoirs in 1945, and uses the present storage in conjunction with Rye Patch Reservoir.


The Reclamation Service undertook a preliminary investigation of reservoir sites and a study of the Humboldt River runoff were undertaken by in 1919.

Final investigations in 1933 resulted in selection of the Rye Patch Dam site and indicated that a reservoir of nearly 200,000 acre-feet capacity was required for a dependable water supply. The report of this investigation resulted in an allotment of Public Works Administration construction funds.

The National Irrigation Water Quality Program collected organic chemical data from biological samples, bottom material samples, and water quality data at Humboldt in reconnaissance investigations starting in 1989. These investigated and determined levels of potential toxic chemicals in water, sediment, plants, fish, and aquatic birds, and if those contaminants were at a level that potentially could cause injury to fish or wildlife resources.


  • Funding for authorization came from the National Industrial Recovery Act of June 16, 1933.

  • On August 24, 1933, the Public Works Administration (PWA) approved an allotment of $2 million. The President approved the project on November 6, 1935.

Construction of Rye Patch Dam commenced on January 31, 1935, and was completed June 1, 1936. Purchase of lands and water rights and construction of minor works by Government forces in the vicinity of Battle Mountain, collectively called the Battle Mountain Water Collection and Development System, were completed by January 21, 1939. A rehabilitation and betterment program, consisting of a control dam and improvements to existing dikes and river channel, was started December 5, 1955, in the Battle Mountain area.

In 1976, a rehabilitation and betterment project raised the height of the dam by 3 feet and the normal water surface elevation by 2 feet. This increased the storage capacity of the reservoir an additional 23,000 acre-feet to a total storage capacity of 213,000 acre-feet.

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The principal crops are alfalfa hay, alfalfa seed, wheat, and barley. In 1934, a year before construction, the alfalfa crop provided 5000 tons. In 1936, 10,000 acres provided 45,000 tons of alfalfa and an additional 4,000 acres of grain averaged around 40 bushels per acre. 1990, 12,257 acres harvested 61,285 tons. In the same year, the overall value of crops grown on Humboldt project lands was $10.1 million. In 1990, the project was home to 92 full-time farms managed by 250 people.

The livestock industry is a vital element to the Northern Nevada economy, lifestyle, and legend. Much of the produce is used for feeding the large numbers of cattle and sheep brought in from the upper Humboldt Basin and the Central Valley of California. The livestock are fattened before being shipped, principally to west coast markets.

Recreation, Fish & Wildlife

The Rye Patch Reservoir provides the usual types of water-based recreation. Facilities have been developed and operated under the administration of the Nevada Division of Parks. Fishing for trout and warm water species is under the management of the State Fish and Game Commission.

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Last updated: May 10, 2011