Walker Lake (Nevada)
Walker Lake with Hawthorne Army Depot in the foreground
|Location||Mineral County, Nevada,
|Primary inflows||Walker River|
|Catchment area||Walker River Basin|
|Basin countries||United States|
|Max. length||18 mi (29 km)|
|Max. width||7 mi (11 km)|
|Surface area||130 km²|
|Max. depth||500 ft (150 m)|
Walker Lake is a natural lake, 50.3 mi² (130 km²) in area, in the Great Basin in western Nevada in the United States. It is 18 mi (29 km) long and 7 mi (11 km) wide, in northwestern Mineral County along the east side of the Wassuk Range, about 75 mi (120 km) southeast of Reno. The lake is fed from the north by the Walker River and has no natural outlet except absorption and evaporation. The community of Walker Lake, Nevada, is found along the southwest shore.
The lakebed is a remnant of prehistoric Lake Lahontan that covered much of northwestern Nevada during the ice age. Although the ancient history of Walker Lake has been extensively studied by researchers seeking to establish a climatic timeline for the region as part of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository study, this research has raised many puzzling questions. Unlike Pyramid Lake, the lake itself has dried up several times since the end of the Pleistocene, probably due to natural diversions of the Walker River into the Carson Sink approximately 2,100 years ago. Also, this research found no evidence that the Walker Lake basin contained water during the Lake Lahontan highstand, although based on the surface elevation of the highstand evidenced elsewhere in the region it must have.
The area around the lake has long been inhabited by the Paiute. Beginning in the mid-19th century the introduction of agriculture upstream of Walker Lake has resulted in the water from the Walker River and its tributaries being diverted for irrigation. These diversions have resulted in a severe drop in the level of the lake. According the USGS, the level dropped approximately 140 ft (40 m) between 1882 and 1994. By October 1, 2012, the lake level was 3,923.2 feet above sea level. This is the lowest lake elevation since measurement began in 1882.
The lower level of the lake has resulted in a higher concentration of total dissolved solids (TDS). As of the Fall of 2012, the TDS concentration had reached 19 g/L, well above the lethal limit for most of the native fish species throughout much of the lake. Lahontan cutthroat trout no longer occur in the lake and recent work by researchers indicates that the lake's Tui chub have declined dramatically and may soon disappear as the salinity levels are lethal to Tui chub eggs and young chubs. The decline of the lake's fishery is having a dramatic impact on the species of birds using the lake. By 2009, the town of Hawthorne canceled its Loon Festival because the lake, once a major stopover point for migratory loons, could no longer provide enough chub and other small fish to attract many loons.
U.S. Senator Harry Reid authored legislation (Public Law 107-171, enacted 5/13/02) that established the Desert Terminal Lakes Program. The legislation provided $200 million to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation "to provide water to at-risk natural desert terminal lakes" but prohibited leasing or purchasing water rights.
A series of subsequent modifications have specifically directed funding for the acquisition of water rights from willing sellers to benefit Walker Lake, including Public Law 108-7, enacted 2/20/03, specified that funding was to be used to provide water and assistance only for Pyramid, Summit, and Walker lakes in the state of Nevada.
Public Law 109-103, enacted 11/19/05, allocated $95 million, as follows: • $70 million to the University of Nevada to 1) acquire from willing sellers land, water appurtenant to the land, and related interests in the Walker River Basin, and 2) to establish and administer an agricultural and natural resources center to undertake research, restoration, and educational activities in the Walker River Basin; • $10 million for a water lease and purchase program for the Walker River Paiute Tribe; • $10 million for tamarisk eradication, riparian area restoration, and channel restoration efforts within the Walker River Basin to enhance water delivery to Walker Lake; and • $5 million to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Walker River Paiute Tribe, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife to complete the design and implementation of the Western Inland Trout Initiative and Fishery Improvements in the State of Nevada with an emphasis on the Walker River Basin.
Public Law 110-161, enacted 12/26/07, allocated $68.25 million, as follows: • $2.5 million to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to analyze the impacts of low water flows on reproduction at the Walker Lake fishery, including an analysis of methods to prevent permanent effects on the fishery from low water flows; • $4 million to the State of Nevada to prepare watershed inventories, with a particular focus on the Walker and Carson River Basins; • $500,000 for the Walker River Paiute Tribe for legal and professional services in support of settling tribal water claims in the Walker River Basin and to Walker Lake;
Public Law 110-234, Section 2807, enacted 5/22/08, appropriated an additional $175 million, “to provide water to at-risk natural desert terminal lakes.“ It also specifies that when there are willing sellers, the funding can be used: • To lease water; and • To purchase land, water appurtenant to the land, and related interests in the Walker River Basin.
Public Law 111-8, Sections 207 and 208, enacted 3/11/09, made minor changes to previous allocations and added 2 allocations to be funded from the original $200 million appropriation: • $300,000 to the Desert Research Institute for LIDAR acquisition data in the Walker River Basin; • $300,000 to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess and monitor the ability of west central Nevada lakes to support migratory loons, and identification of wintering areas and annual range of loons using Walker Lake during migration.
Public Law 111-85, Sections 206 through 208, enacted 10/28/09, modified previous Desert Terminal Lake legislation and allocated $80.7 million, including: • $66,200,000 to establish the Walker Basin Restoration Program, to be administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; • $1 million to the U.S. Geological Survey for Walker River Basin water monitoring program;
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has been acquiring water rights to benefit the lake and has submitted applications to the Nevada State Engineer to transfer the water downstream to benefit the lake. There are numerous protests and the State Engineer held hearings on the applications in July 2013.
The Walker Lake State Recreation Area is located along the western shore of the lake. The Hawthorne Army Depot, which claims to be the world's largest ammunition depot, fills the valley to the south of the lake. U.S. Route 95 passes along the western shore of Walker Lake.
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