"Newlands was a mistake" -- Part II
Why They Call Reid 'Senator $waps'

Editor's note: Perhaps never before in history has a nation set out to methodically turn its own fertile cropland into desert. Yet Nevada's senior U.S. senator, Harry Reid, is pursuing that as his own personal legacy to Fallon, Nevada. As EN reported last week, Reid even ordered the Navy to do that with lands it formerly leased to farmers -- almost as if the farmers were a national enemy.

by Tim Findley
The Magpie

Reid got help removing the air-base lands from cultivation by legal advice from the federal lawyer then representing the Fallon Naval Air Base. A meticulous, single-minded career bureaucrat nearing middle age, his name was "Fred Disheroon."

To this day, people in the Lahontan Valley who have encountered him wonder why Disheroon, now a U. S. Justice Department Solicitor assigned specifically to the Newlands issue, seems to take the matter of water right and land acquisition in the valley so personally, almost as if he has a grudge against the Nevada farmers.
The whole answer may not be there, but it seems to begin with Disheroon trying to carry out the directions of Reid and, indirectly, the advice given to Reid by Tribal Attorney Robert Pelcyger.
Disheroon, however, wasn't the only federal bureaucrat on whom the Nevada Senator imposed his demands to remove farmers from the Newlands Project.
Whatever promises were made to the Pyramid Lake Tribe, however much it depended on a deal with Sierra Pacific Power Company and the Reno developers, Reid's basic political obligations were still in Las Vegas.
It was a Reno Republican, Congresswoman Barbara Vucanovich, who carried Reid's barely-passed bill to President George Bush at virtually the last minute of the 101st Congress.
"Think about it," said a Fallon politician. "What choice did she have? Could she have risked her own



re-election by bucking Reid on a complicated issue of principle?"
It was, after all, called a "Negotiated Settlement," even though the terms presented to Fallon farmers read more like a surrender document.
Reid's friends in Las Vegas and those active in the rising fortunes of a Democrat bid to retake the White House certainly noticed his success.
Among them was the former Governor of Arizona, the Honorable Bruce Babbitt, who was marking time in 1991 as a consultant to the Del Webb Corporation, once the major player in Nevada gaming, and now concentrating its resources in "retirement communities" such as Phoenix's Sun City and an even larger project the company had in mind for booming Las Vegas.
According to documents obtained from the Bureau of Land Management, it was Babbitt, as the consultant for Del Webb, who made the earliest contacts with the BLM in November of 1992, seeking a deal on federal lands bordering the widening sprawl of Glitter Gulch.
Babbitt would soon be absorbed into the Clinton administration as Secretary


 
of the Interior, but Del Webb continued its efforts to secure the federal land around Las Vegas, using all the political help it could muster.
The BLM chronology of contacts notes that in October of 1994, BLM regional chief Gary Ryan "met with Senator Reid, Virginia Turner and Don Moon (both of Del Webb).
"...The Senator was very clear that Del Webb was to be a priority 'to be put on the top of the pile and not have to go to the end of the line,' Ryan reported. "He also encouraged me personally to take an interest and assist Del Webb in any way possible within the regulations..."
Del Webb wanted federal land near Sky Harbor Airport in Las Vegas in exchange for "environmentally sensitive" lands elsewhere. But at that point, contrary to the usual procedures, Del Webb had no lands to offer in exchange.
Significantly, at the time Reid made his visit to BLM in behalf of Del Webb, the Senator was also, in northern Nevada, pursuing implementation of his settlement act. Talks among the major parties with an interest in the water issues had not been going well, even though Reid was "generously" allowing new (but ultimately futile) mediation. Yet, among the federal agencies




charged with implementing Reid's 1990 'settlement' legislation, more help for Del Webb was available.
Since at least 1990, court documents revealed last year, there has been in place a quiet agreement between U.S. Fish and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy, authorizing TNC to act as an ex-officio agent of the government in securing land and water rights from "willing sellers" in the Newlands Project.
Thus a TNC operative, Graham Chisholm -- who coincidentally entered the Lahontan Valley in 1990 -- was able to function as a de facto agent of Del Webb Corporation, locating farm land that Del Webb could buy and exchange for the federal property it wanted on the outskirts of Las Vegas.
Chisholm presented himself to the Fallon community as a well-meaning environmentalist and community organizer, and he tried to explain it as merely a fortuitous circumstance that Del Webb was willing to invest in "restoration of the wetlands." But Chisholm never explained who directed him to Del Webb or what the actual agreement was between the richly-endowed non-profit TNC and the former gaming giant turned developer.
The deals Chisholm set up for Del Webb before his own unexplained


 
departure from the Conservancy are still snarled in protest over dollar-for-dollar value of the land Del Webb wants to swap for Las Vegas property. But the land in Churchill County has been de-watered and taken out of production. It's another piece of the implementation of Public Law 101-618.
When he ran for re-election in 1992, Senator Harry Reid received some $20,000 in total campaign donations from Del Webb. In 1995, three years before his next election, he reported receiving over $50,000 in campaign contributions traceable directly or indirectly to the Las Vegas developer.
In Reno and elsewhere, the major media continued to tout all the dealing as part of the continued success of Reid in bringing about an end to the long water "wars." The Senator persistently made sympathetic public statements about meaning to "take care" of the farmers whose rural lifestyle he personally understood.
But the truth was that as the seven-year period for implementation of his Act neared its 1997 deadline, more pressure was needed to overwhelm farmer resistance to "willingly" selling their rights.
Reid padded the offer with $12 million in federal subsidies and another $12 million in indirect federal




aid to help Sierra Pacific secure a "water quality" agreement that amounted to nothing more than a "water quantity" deal providing funds to purchase downstream water rights from farmers along the Truckee Canal.
Shirley Walker of Fallon's Churchill Economic Development Authority (CEDA) happened to be in the Senator's office with a group of other county planners from around the nation when Reid blurted out that he was certain the Truckee Canal would be closed and filled in by the turn of the century. The canal routes water from the Truckee to the Newlands project.
Reid, of course, later denied having said it, but it was directly in line with the plans of Tribal Attorney Pelcyger and Justice Department Lawyer Fred Disheroon, who by then was becoming increasingly frustrated with the slow progress of forcing farmers to sell.
In 1995, Disheroon produced an article for the American Bar Association in which he expressed that frustration with the progress on the Newlands Project and suggested "alternative approaches." Those would involve, he wrote, "more stringent enforcement of all limiting provisions of western water law ... it also includes measures to reduce the amount of water used to


 
transport water to the end user or to limit the amount used versus the amount needed to achieve the decreed purpose."
"Regulating out" the farmers was no new idea. It was, in fact, the concept ultimately behind the Bureau of Reclamation's demand for a new contract with TCID that would leave the farmers even more helpless in defending themselves against federal restrictions.
Whether Ann Ball completely agreed with that or not was never quite clear, but Ball, as the new BOR Newlands boss, was given the job of making the irrigation district come to the feds' terms.
At least twice in a two-year process of talks, she thought she was near that point. Both times the agreement was rejected by Disheroon and others in Washington, D.C. Ball herself was called back to the capitol and hailed into the office of Reid himself, where sources said the Senator gave the BOR manager a tongue lashing for not bringing the farmers into line.
Searchlight's best-known success, the most powerful politician in Nevada, one of the 50 riches members of Congress, was showing increasing irritation at the resistance of small farmers he didn't need and didn't like.
Even the weather worked against him, as the long drought broke into three successively more productive wet winters, allowing farmers not only to




recover their losses but begin to show a profit, especially from "free" water spread as flood prevention onto previously dry fields.
Ann Ball, ultimately responsible for allowing the spreading in 1997, was given a $5,000 federal bonus on one day for her success at finally winning the new contract with TCID, and the next day told she would have two months to find another job.
Once again, Reid denies it, but informed sources say the Senator, harangued with protest from the tribal attorney, threatened to hold up Interior Department appropriations unless Ball was removed.
In a double irony, the vindictive act against Ball was made meaningless by the ruling of a federal judge in Las Vegas, who permitted the water-spreading to continue.
Harry Reid is by no means finished with Newlands. He will be there at his proudest post, near the ear of the President himself, next month when Clinton visits Tahoe to discuss water "clarity."
The Senator is likely to remind the President that, like Clinton himself, he is just a former poor kid from the dusty mean streets of a little town nobody ever heard of.


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