Heidi Bunch -  The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation purchased nearly $20 million worth of property in Mineral and Lyon Counties, including the Flying M Ranch once owned by Barron Hilton.

Heidi Bunch –
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation purchased nearly $20 million worth of property in Mineral and Lyon Counties, including the Flying M Ranch once owned by Barron Hilton.

For the price of $19.4 million, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have acquired property in both Mineral and Lyon Counties that had once been owned by Barron Hilton.

Included in the acquisition of the Flying M Ranch in Lyon County, Mineral County landmarks such as Fletcher and Nine Mile Ranch will be included in the purchase along with Rough Creek.

The purchase of 7,139 acres of land, surface water fight produce almost 28 cubic feet of flow per second to the Walker River and the primary rights of the 160 acre-feet of groundwater are included along with the thousands of acre-feet of storage rights.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation have directed their efforts to get more water to the Walker River in hope that it can reach Walker Lake, an ancient lake into which the Walker River used to dump into.

The funds received from the National Fish and wildlife Foundation is received through funding from such the Desert Terminal Lakes Program, managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The foundation also receives grant agreements and administers the walker Basin program for the Bureau of Reclamation and the Department of the Interior.

“The Walker Lake Working Group (WLWG) was very happy to hear of the purchase of the Hilton Ranch by the Walker Basin Restoration Program. The Hilton Ranch compliments the prior purchases of the Rafter 7 Ranch and the Pitchfork Ranch on the East Walker River,” Glenn Bunch, president of the Walker Lake Working Group told the Independent-News.

“We now have thousands and thousands of acres of water that is going to wind up going in that lake [Walker Lake],” said Senator Harry Reid, D-Nev., when commenting on the purchase of Flying M and previous acquisitions. “We are going to save Walker Lake.”

Reid was instrumental in establishing the Walker Basin Restoration Program. The thought of acquiring property and water rights to restore the health of Walker Lake back to the condition it was around the year 2000, when it supported fish species such as Lahontan cutthroat trout and Tui Chub and was an annual stopover for migrating birds, such as loons.

The decrease in water has shrunk the lake which has contributed to higher levels of saline and other solids, which has reduced water quality.

“The Hilton Ranch purchase has increased the Surface Decree water by 47.47 Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) to a total of 98.2 CFS that has been purchased so far. Reservoir Storage Water Supplemental was increased by 554 Acre Feet (AF) to a total of 2,645 AF and New Land increased by 2,911 AF to a total of 9,118 AF. Groundwater Supplemental was increased from 2,837 AF to a total of 12,239 AF and Primary increased by 160 AF to a total of 1,146 AF. The total land was increased by 7,139 Acres for a total of 15,719 Acres from willing seller,” Bunch explained.

He went on to state that the above totals have taken six years to accomplish.

“In short what this means, as reported to the WLWG by Ashley Downing, Manager, Walker Basin Restoration Program, this represents approximately 40 percent of the water needed for the lake has been acquired. The first purchase was in 2010 and 15 purchases to date with more in the works.

Besides water and land rights, the Flying M deal included a life-lease provision that will allow former owner, Hilton, age 88, to remain on the property.

The ranch, which is located in between the Wassuk Range and the Sweetwater Mountains, has been a longtime destination for Hilton and his aviator friends. The ranch was once the site of the Barron Hilton Cut, a glider competition that ran from 1980 to 2009. The ranch was last in the news when Steve Fossett, a famous aviator, went missing after leaving the remote destination on Sept. 3, 2007. Reports were made that Fossett had crashed in Mineral County. Remains of Fossett and the aircraft he was last seen in were found in October of 2008 near Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

“It’s been a long haul since the WLWG started its’ quest to save this natural beauty that we call Walker Lake.

Through the past 24 years, there have been many endeavors to accomplish the salvation of a dying ecology. Wildlife rely on this lake for survival and Mineral County has felt the financial hit with loss of recreation at the lake. The life of which has been choked from its’ existence by upstream diversions,” Bunch continued.

Such diversions can be read about in this week’s edition regarding a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government and the Walker River Irrigation District.

“This is why we, Walker Lake Working Group, have been grateful to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for their establishment of the Walker Basin Restoration Program. Senator Reid was the backbone of Public Law 111-85 in October 2009 that provided the funding to allow all this to happen. During fiscal year 2010, the first acquisition of water was acquired from the North Mason Valley area from a willing seller. Being the first, it had to pave the way.

We are still in the process of changing Water Decree C125, of 1936 that lays out the Walker River System. Until it is updated to reflect the change of use from agriculture to public use for the purchase of water for Walker Lake, the water remains in the Mason Valley. We are currently in court to make this change,” Bunch explained.

Mineral County District Sean Rowe told the Independent-News, “I am pleased to see NFWF moving forward with the acquisitions program under the Desert Terminus Lakes program. This program represents a significant part of what are regional efforts to return water flows to Walker Lake. Mineral County remains fully engaged in advocating to restore Walker Lake. We appreciate these efforts of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that bring us closer to our goal.”

The Walker Lake Working Group will meet on Sept. 13 at 2 p.m. at the Mineral County Library.

“Every step taken to insure the preservation of this natural beauty is our daily goal. WLWG is always very happy to see more water acquired for the lake and to make it a viable fishery and recreation spot for all to enjoy,” Bunch concluded.