Bureau of Reclamation Banner
Newlands Project
Needs a description
Project Links
Project History
Project Data
Contact Information
Related Facilities
Related Documents
Newlands Project History (91 KB) (pdf)
General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits

General Description

The Newlands Project covers lands in the west-central Nevada counties of Churchill, Lyon, Storey, and Washoe. Water for the project comes from Lake Tahoe, which lies on the California/Nevada border, the Truckee River which drains Lake Tahoe, and the Carson River. Annual precipitation in the region is less than 4? inches and temperatures range from a low of -17 degrees to a high over 100 degrees.

The Upper Truckee River begins in California`s Sierra Nevada and flows into the southern end of Lake Tahoe. The Truckee River originates at the outlet of Lake Tahoe, flows about 105 miles through northeastern California and northwestern Nevada, and terminates in Pyramid Lake. The Truckee River basin includes the area that drains naturally to the Truckee River and its tributaries, into Lake Tahoe, and into Pyramid Lake. It is linked to the Carson River basin via the Truckee Canal, which extends about 32 miles from Derby Diversion Dam to Lahontan Reservoir.

Part of Truckee River water is stored in Federal and non-Federal reservoirs located in California. The Federal reservoirs are Lake Tahoe (Newlands Project) and Boca, (Truckee River Storage Project) [http://www.usbr.gov/dataweb/html/truckee.html] Prosser Creek, Stampede, and Martis Creek Reservoirs (Washoe Project) [http://www.usbr.gov/dataweb/html/washoe.html]. The non-Federal reservoirs are Independence Lake (owned and operated by Sierra Pacific) and Donner Lake (owned and operated by Sierra Pacific and the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District). Operation of the reservoirs facilitates distribution of water in the Truckee River system throughout the year.

The Newlands Project, formerly the Truckee-Carson Project, was one of the first Reclamation projects. Construction began in 1903. It provides full service irrigation water from the Truckee and Carson Rivers for about 55,000 acres of cropland in the Lahontan Valley near Fallon and bench lands near Fernley in western Nevada. In addition, water from about 6,000 acres of project land has been transferred to the Lahontan Valley wetlands near Fallon. The drainage basins contain nearly 3,400 square miles with a combined average annual runoff of about 850,000 acre-feet of water.

Lake Tahoe Dam, a small dam at the outlet of Lake Tahoe, the source of the Truckee River, controls releases into the river. Downstream, the Derby Diversion Dam diverts the water into and the Truckee Canal and carries it to the Carson River. Other features include Lahontan Dam and Reservoir, Carson River Diversion Dam, and Lahontan Powerplant.

Return to top



Water for the Newlands Project is diverted from the Truckee River into the Truckee Canal for irrigation of the Truckee Division and for conveyance to Lahontan Reservoir for storage. Water stored in Lahontan Reservoir or conveyed by the Truckee Canal is released into the Carson River either directly or through Lahontan Powerplant, and is diverted into the `V` and `T` Canals at Carson Diversion Dam for irrigation of the Carson Division.

Facility Descriptions

Lake Tahoe Dam controls the top six feet of Lake Tahoe. With the surface area of the lake, this creates a reservoir of 732,000-acre-feet capacity and regulates the lake outflow into the Truckee River. Completed in 1913, Lake Tahoe Dam is a concrete slab and buttress structure with 17 vertical gates. It is 18 feet high and 109 feet long. Flows are controlled by 17 gates, each 5 ft by 4 ft.

Reclamation modified Lake Tahoe Dam in 1987 under the Safety of Dams program. Reclamation constructed reinforced concrete stabilizing walls in the existing embankments, concrete embankment caps over both embankments, and reinforced embankment and slope protection. Each stabilizing wall is 44 feet long and extends about 20 feet down into the embankment. A cut-off wall was added to provide increased stability to the dam and embankment in a severe earthquake.

Lahontan Dam and Reservoir on the Carson River store the natural flow of the Carson River along with water diverted from the Truckee River. The dam, completed in 1915, is a zoned earthfill structure 162 feet high. To prevent seepage, a cutoff-wall extends 30 - 60 feet below the original ground surface and 6 - 8 feet above the surface and into the embankment.

The dam has twin spillways, one at each end of the main dam, that discharge into a common stilling pool. Each spillway has an uncontrolled concrete crest approximately 250-feet long with an open channel that curves nearly 90 before ending at the stilling pool. The pool, located at the base of the dam, is 230-feet across with an area of almost one acre. The spillway system was designed so that the energy of the flows will cancel one another when they converge in the pool. The combined design capacity of the spillway system is 30,000 cfs.

The reservoir has a storage capacity of 295,500 acre-feet. When 20-inch flashboards are installed on the spillway crest, up to 23,900 acre feet of additional storage capacity is available in some years.

Lahontan Powerplant

Lahontan Powerplant, immediately below Lahontan Dam, has a capacity of 1,920 kilowatts, and facilities to use water from either Lahontan Reservoir or the Truckee Canal.

The plant was completed in 1911. The design of the powerplant took advantage of the more than 100 foot fall of the Truckee Canal into the Carson River. A 1,128-foot long, 72-inch diameter steel pipe runs through the left outlet conduit from the base of the intake tower, under the left spillway and onto the powerhouse. A 66-inch fixed-cone valve bypasses flows into the spillway pool when power operations are suspended. In 1949, the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District installed diesel equipment adjoining this plant to generate 2,000 kilowatts.

In 1988, a second powerhouse was constructed at Lahontan Dam for a single 4,000 kilowatts generator.

Truckee Canal

The Truckee Canal extends 32 miles from Derby Diversion Dam to the Lahonton Reservoir. It has an initial bottom width of 20 feet and an initial capacity of 1,500 cubic feet per second and a maximum depth of 13 feet. The canal has three 15.3-feet-wide tunnels ranging from 309 feet to 1,521 feet long. The Truckee Canal has an ending capacity of 900 cubic feet per second.

The Carson River Diversion Dam is on the Carson River 5 miles below Lahontan Dam. The dam diverts water into two main canals to irrigate Carson Division lands. The Carson River Diversion Dam is 241-feet long with a 225 ft long, 31-ft high, concrete control section, and has a diversion capacity of 1,950 cfs. It was completed in 1906.

Derby Diversion Dam, on the Truckee River about 20 miles below Reno, diverts water into the Truckee Canal for conveyance to Lahontan Reservoir and for irrigation of the Truckee Division lands. The dam is a concrete structure 31 feet high.

`V` and `T` Canals

Two canals carry water from the Carson River Diversion Dam to project lands. The `T` Canal serves lands on the north side of the river. It is 9 miles long with a bottom width of 10-feet, and has a capacity of 450 cfs. The `V` Canal serves lands on the south side of the river and is 27 miles long. It has a bottom width of 22-feet and a capacity of 1,500 cfs.

`V` Canal Powerplant

The `V` Canal powerplant is on a drop in the `V` Canal about 6 miles west of Fallon. It has two 400 kilowatt generators.

Canal, Distribution and Drainage System

Overall, the project has 68.5 miles of main canals with a combined diversion capacity of 2,000 cubic feet per second.

In addition to the primary canals, more that 300 miles of laterals and almost 350 miles of drains have been constructed since work on the first laterals began in 1904.

Operating Agencies

Storage water in Lake Tahoe and Boca Reservoir in the Truckee Storage Project , is regulated in accordance with the provisions of the Truckee River Agreement, to which the United States, the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District, the Washoe County Water Conservation District, and the Sierra Pacific Power Company are parties. This agreement was made to stabilize and supplement the natural flow of the Truckee River, for which Donner Lake storage also is available. The Truckee-Carson Irrigation District and the Sierra Pacific Power Company have acquired storage rights in Donner Lake for joint use and Truckee River regulation. Donner Lake on Donner Creek has a capacity of about 9,500 acre-feet.

Under terms of the contract of December 18, 1926, the operation and maintenance of the project were transferred to the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District on December 31, 1926.

The United States and The Truckee-Carson Irrigation District entered into a new contract for opration and maintenance of the project on November 25, 1996.

Reclamation  assumed responsibility for operating and maintaining Lake Tahoe Dam in 2000.

Return to top



The early settlers of the project area irrigated by simple, diversions, relying on natural flow for their water supply. The 1860s was a period of rapid growth and settlement along the Truckee River. In the early 1860s, the first irrigation ditches began to appear. Numerous dams were constructed on the Truckee River to divert water for irrigation or to power mills.

Throughout the later part of the 1800s, growth along the Truckee River continued at a rapid pace. More dams were constructed, increasing diversions from the river and further limiting migration of fish. Industrial and municipal wastes flowed untreated into the river. Before the authorization of the project in 1903, there were 20,000 acres of land under cultivation that had natural-flow water rights. By the time the Reclamation Service authorized construction of the Truckee-Carson Project in 1903, the waters of the Truckee River were virtually all appropriated.

During the first irrigation season in 1905, 108 farms were settled by 674 people. Their experiences during that first season would be repeated for many years to come. There was a lack of water for project lands during the late months of the irrigation season. Although there were markets for produce and hay, it took several years before a farm could produce an adequate crop. When Reclamation opened project lands for settlement in 1904, 800 parcels were made available. By the beginning of 1908, only 300 parcels were occupied. In 1910, due to lack of water, project lands were closed to new settlement pending construction of storage facilities on the Carson or Truckee Rivers.

Following completion of Lahontan Dam in late 1914, the project was reopened to settlement. Settlement gradually increased throughout the first part of the century. By 1950, the number of irrigated farms on the project had grown to 896, covering a little more than 55,400 acres. In 1950, the farm population was 3,500 people with another 4,000 people living in towns. This increased still further. By 1980, the number of farms on the project had risen to 1,200 with just over 73,000 acres holding rights to project water. The number of people living on project lands in 1980 was 8,000. The gross value of crops in 1980 had soared to $26,139,881. In 1992, the Newlands Project served 144 full-time farms averaging 143 acres each, and 4,041 part-time farms each averaging slightly less than 13 acres. The total population served in 1992 was just under 18,000 people including 2,200 non farms users.


The first investigations in the Truckee and Carson River Basins were started by the Geological Survey in 1889 and were continued intermittently until the newly organized Reclamation Service commenced investigations in the summer of 1902. The Reclamation investigations consisted of surveys for storage reservoirs, including the Lake Tahoe storage and the present Lahontan Reservoir, and the canal system. Truckee-Carson was among the first five projects to be recommended by the Reclamation Service.


The Tuckee-Carson project was authorized by the Secretary of the Interior on March 14, 1903.

The United States assumed control of the dam at the outlet of Lake Tahoe along with appurtenant lands on July 1, 1915, pursuant to a decree of the United States District Court dated June 4, 1915.

The Omnibus Adjustment Act of May 25, 1926, contained provisions to reduce the original scope of the Newlands Project and to establish specific repayment obligations.


Construction began in 1903, the same year the project was authorized. The first construction specification Reclamation issued was for the Truckee River Diversion Dam, now the Derby Diversion Dam, which was completed by June 1905. By September 1905, the Carson River Diversion Dam and main distributing canals for the Carson Division had been completed. The Truckee Canal and a timber chute to the Carson River (the chute was later replaced by one of concrete which discharges into Lahontan Reservoir) were completed in November 1906. This permitted the diversion of Truckee River water for use in the Carson Division for the first time in 1907. Construction of Lake Tahoe Dam was completed in 1913.

An extensive draining system was built from 1916 to 1928. Tunnels were repaied in the late 1920s. From 1947- 1954, the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District upgraded the Lahontan Powerplant and incresaed the total capacity to just under 4,000 kilowatts. The total project capacity was increased in 1955 when the `V` Canal Powerplan was completed.

Pyramid Lake

For hundreds of years, Pyramid Lake has been the focus of life for the Indians that have lived upon its shores. Fed by the waters of the Truckee River, the lake supported several varieties of fish and waterfowl. Each season, hundreds of fish, some as large as 40 pounds or more, would make their way upstream to spawning grounds far up the Truckee River. Starting in the mid-1800s, development has cut off the spawning grounds. Over-fishing, poor water quality, and inaccessibility to spawning grounds led to the extinction of at least one species of indigenous trout.

As more and more water was diverted from the river, the level of Pyramid Lake began to fall. In 1906, with completion of the Derby Diversion Dam, flows into the lake were cut in half. In 1967, the level of Pyramid Lake reached its lowest point in recorded history, 87 feet lower than when diversions began at Derby in 1906, and prevented Pyramid Lake fish species from migrating upstream to spawn.

Beginning in 1968, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Tribe began a series of law suits aimed at halting the decline of Pyramid Lake. These suits led to the February 1973 Gesell Opinion, which contained new requirements for operation of the Newlands Project. In 1982, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe won an important decision that obtained dedicated water rights for restoration of endangered Pyramid Lake fish species. The decision grants the Secretary of the Interior the authority to designate the rights to all stored water in Stampede Reservoir, completed in 1970 as part of the Washoe Project, to preserve the endangered species of Pyramid Lake and directs that Stampede Reservoir be used benefit the Pyramid Lake fisheries.

The future of Pyramid Lake is tightly entwined with that of the Newlands Project. Decisions and changes that effect one will likely adversely affect the other. Factor into the situation the needs of other water users along the Truckee River, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribes on the Carson River whose culture and reservation are intimately linked to the Stillwater Wetlands, and the controversy becomes even more complex. The final solution to the controversies will involve striking a balance between the needs of each party.

The near record runoff in the spring of 1995 helped raise the level of Pyramid Lake almost 4 feet. While helping to restore the waters of Pyramid Lake, the runoff provided little or no relief from the controversies that surround the lake and the use of Truckee River water.

Recent Developments

The current control and beneficial use of the Truckee River are the result of a long history of constructing and managing water storage and diversion facilities. The operating constraints of these facilities are defined by the exercise of water rights, court decrees, agreements, and regulations. Some key operating constraints include the Truckee River General Electric Decree, Truckee River Agreement, Orr Ditch Decree, Tahoe-Prosser Exchange Agreement, Newlands Project Operating Criteria and Procedures (OCAP), and the Preliminary Settlement Agreement (PSA). The PSA, entered into in 1989 by Sierra Pacific and the Pyramid Lake Tribe, is an agreement to change the operation of Federal reservoirs and the exercise of Truckee River water rights to (1) improve spawning conditions for the Pyramid Lake fishes and (2) provide additional M&I water for the Reno-Sparks area during drought periods. Many provisions of the PSA have not yet been implemented and will be implemented only through the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA).

The Truckee River Operating Agreement is expected to be completed in late 2000 after almost 10 years of negotiation. TROA will allow more flexible use of a series of Truckee River reservoirs, resulting in an array of new benefits including:

1. Substantial drought protection for the Reno metropolitan area
2. Municipal and industrial storage to aid Fernley
3. Improved instream flows in the Truckee River
4. Improved recreational levels in California reservoirs
5. Federal revenues from storing water dedicated to wetlands restoration and fish recovery
6. A permanent interstate allocation between California and Nevada of the waters of the Truckee and Carson Rivers and Lake Tahoe
7. Release of the Pyramid Lake Tribe`s economic development fund which, with interest, is now over $50 million.

Return to top



Newlands Project water is mostly used for agriculture. Since its inception, the Newlands Project has been home to many different types of crops. Now, principal irrigated crops are alfalfa hay, grass hay, irrigated pasture, barley, wheat, corn, oats, and sorghum. The project can provide service to approximately 6,200 acres of fertile bench lands adjacent to the Truckee Canal west and south of Hazen, and another 66,700 acres on the north and south sides of the Carson River near Fallon.

In 1992, 73,859 acres were available for irrigation with 55,182 acres receiving project water. The primary crop grown on project lands is alfalfa, which is raised on just over 35,500 acres. Cereal crops are raised on another 9,950 acres, with a small amount of acreage devoted to corn, melons, squash and berries. In addition, there are 4,000 acres of irrigated pasture on the project. The total crop value for 1992 was $13,291,921.


The Lahontan Reservoir (http://www.recreation.gov/detail.cfm?ID=85) area offers swimming, picnicking, camping, boating facilities, and fishing for trout and warm water fish. In 1992, over 116,000 visitor days were recorded at Lahontan Reservoir. Overnight lodging accommodations are located nearby. Recreational activities at Lahontan Reservoir are administered by the Nevada Division of State Parks and the Truckee-Carson Irrigation District.

The Fernley and Stillwater Wildlife Management Areas are also in the boundaries of the Newlands project and provide numerous recreational activities including hunting, fishing, and sightseeing. These areas are administered by the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Hydroelectric Power

Truckee-Carson Irrigation District has built 73 miles of 33-kilovolt transmission lines to convey power from Lahontan Powerplant to the city of Fallon; towns of Fernley, Wadsworth, Hazen, and Stillwater; Indian reservations; and most of the rural areas of the project. Distribution facilities were constructed by the district and local improvement districts. The Lahontan plant and distribution system is interconnected to the Sierra Pacific Power Company system and operated by the power company.

Return to top

Last updated: May 11, 2011