Former Principal Charlie Condron Finds New Venture As East Fork Water Master
by Sheila Gardner, Carson Valley Times
Charlie Condron explains how the valve that releases water from Tamarack Lake into the Carson River works.
From March 1 until the beginning of November, Charlie Condron is answering the call of the Carson River seven days a week.
As the deputy water master of the East Fork of the river, Condron stepped into the shoes of Julian Larrouy who held the position for almost a quarter century until he retired in 2012 at age 79.
The former Douglas High School principal said he applied for the position because it was an opportunity to continue his lifelong love of learning. The job puts him in contact with former students and teachers, ex-Little League coaches and players, and people he has known since his family moved to Carson Valley when Condron was 4.
Are they surprised to see “Mr. Condron” show up as the deputy water master?
“I had to prove myself,” he said. “Occasionally, someone will try to tell me, ‘Well, Julian would give me the water.’”
As deputy water master, Condron’s responsibility is to make sure that water rights’ holders along the East Fork of the Carson River receive their allocation of surface water critical to agriculture. That involves daily trips throughout the web that is the East Fork of the river in Alpine and Douglas counties, and meetings with the water’s users whose allocation is determined by the age of their water rights.
He is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court.
In the midst of what’s turning out to be a three-year dry spell, Condron approaches the job with diplomacy, and a respect for the history and physical characteristics of the Carson River.
Even a downpour like the one that brought on a 100-year-flood on July 20 has little long-term effect in a drought.
“This shot helped, but we’ll be right back where we were in three or four days,” he said. “When it’s this dry three years in a row, it causes trouble. This may be the first summer when there’s no water under the Cradlebaugh bridge.
He identifies his users by the year of their water rights which date to the 1850s, or the most senior rights. That means those holders get the earliest allocation of water. Rights granted as far back as 1905 are considered “juniors,” and are the first to get cut off when the water runs to a trickle.
The days are long.
Depending on where he’s headed, Condron’s day can easily last 12-14 hours with maybe a cat nap in the afternoon. There are no weekends off, holidays or vacations.
“I fall asleep on the couch in front of the TV almost every night,” he said.
An avid fly-fisherman, Condron said his gear was one of the first items in packed in his truck.
“I haven’t had time to use it,” he laughed.
Tamarack Lake, one of the reservoirs Charlie Condron is charged with monitoring as part of his role as Deputy Water Master for the East Fork of Carson River.
On a warm morning in mid-July, Condron obliged the Carson Valley Times with a peek at his routine.
He picked up his passengers at 5 a.m. for a trip to Tamarack Lake in Alpine County to regulate a water flow.
Condron said of the reservoirs he monitors, Tamarack Lake is the easiest to access. It requires about an hour’s drive from Minden, and ends at the Hope Valley lake after navigating some 4-wheel-drive-challenging terrain.
By 6 a.m., the mist is just rising off the water, and mosquitoes are awake and hungry. As Condron approaches the water valve, he’s careful not to awaken campers asleep in a tent. He points out fresh dog tracks in the wet soil.
“I always watch out for unleashed pitbulls,” Condron said.
Once he’s adjusted the valve, Condron takes a few minutes to make sure he gets the results he’s after. Then it’s back to Minden.
In his daily rounds, Condron has encountered weasels and his greatest foe, beavers.
“There were two beavers under the Martin Slough culvert at (Highway) 395,” he said. “Eighty pounds each! They’re huge. They are my No. 1 enemy. They can do so much damage in one night.”
Damage includes clogging the ditches and culverts, further impeding the water flow.
On July 16, the day of Condron’s early morning tour, the East Fork was at 89 cubic feet per second, factoring in reservoir flow. The average for this time of year is 390 cubic feet per second.
By contrast, during the January 1997 flood, the river was running at more than 20,000 cubic feet per second.
Water levels at Tamarack Lake are quickly dwindling. The rock in the foreground shows the lines left by previous levels.
Being deputy water master allows Condron to make use of his teaching background in history and math.
“I have always been interested in the whole concept of water,” he said. “That’s one reason I wanted to serve on the Minden Town Board because it’s such an important issue for the town.”
Condron, 62, brings three important attributes to the job.
“No. 1, I like people. I enjoy talking to them. Second, you cannot have a need for control because you can’t control any of this. And, finally, I love the outdoors,” he said.
Condron’s counterpart on the West Fork of the Carson is former DHS teacher and coach Steve Wilcox. They’re on the phone or out in the field consulting almost every day, continuing a friendship that began for both of them at the school district.
“I told him this is a job with no benefits, no health insurance, but you’re not doing it for the money,” Condron said. “It’s a hard job to learn, and there is something new every day.”
He is passionate about the importance of water in the Carson Valley for agriculture user and homeowner alike.
“Agriculture is the livelihood of many people who live in Carson Valley. Without water, they wouldn’t be here. In the bigger picture, it’s what feeds us,” he said.
Charlie Condron prepares to climb up the dam at Tamarack Lake.
Condron was back from Tamarack Lake shortly before 8 a.m., and off to meet with Allerman Canal “ditch rider” Gary Aiazzi. It’s an old-fashioned term, and hints at the earlier vigilante days before water regulations went into effect.
He said the water users understand their allocations for the most part, but hope for “any time they can squeeze a little more out.”
There are legal consequences for misappropriation of water, “but I can count on the integrity of individual users not to do that.”
Condron spent more than a year riding around with Julian Larrouy learning the job, and he likes to return the favor.
“This is the best part of the job,” he said, as day broke in Hope Valley, “and it’s the part Julian will tell you he misses the most, running the reservoirs.”
Sheila Gardner is a long-time Gardnerville resident and recently retired after three decades at The Record-Courier. While Sheila is enjoying retirement immensely, she is happy that she still has stories to tell. She can be reached at email@example.com.