There were 13 representatives of Mineral County attending the two-day Nov. 9-10, Desert Terminus Lakes Symposium in Reno, including teacher Darren Hamrey from Mineral County High School with four local students.
Subtitled as the Walker Basin Research Project, over a 100 researchers; scientists; organizational professionals; educators and tribal members joined together to review the astounding headway that has been made as an emphasis toward the primary restoration of Walker Lake, with added efforts to assure that Pyramid Lake and Summit Lake also maintain their effectiveness.
A collaborative effort has worked behind the scenes for 14 years, using $524 million dollars allocated by Senator Harry Reid and Congress from 2002 until present. Over 23 entities were funded for this project over the years, holding at a low 1.5 percent administrative cost. As the initial agreement was made in 2002 as the Reclamation Farm Bill, the funding has always been held under the Bureau of Reclamation and distributed appropriately.
This endeavor was initially confined to the simple appropriation of water, limiting the overall effectiveness. Over 14 years and with 11 public laws initiated, increases of funding were added. It was determined by legislation that the accomplishment toward the final goal of restoring Walker Lake needed a solid component of maintaining a long-term solution to assure not only water levels, but a proper restoration of all habitat.
The last agreement known as “TROA”, Truckee River Operating Agreement, was done in May 2014. This finally allowed for the approval to lease or purchase water rights, which has been done by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, on behalf of this project. As David Yardas, from NFWF stated, “What should’ve been a five year accomplishment, has continued to expand many years as there were setbacks and legal interruptions along the way. But now we anticipate the end as the processes initially unfold in 2017. Acquisitions and stewardship for in-stream rights must be maintained as we continue in our central role in this partnership. To date, 15 farm and land purchases have been made with willing sellers, which translates to 40 percent of the necessary water rights accomplished.”
Yardas added that these properties offered sustainable water use; wildlife; agricultural and conservatory use with long term solutions. In 2009, Congress called out “the protection of the agricultural environment and habitat interest within the Walker River Basin.” Currently under an old decree made in the 1930’s, designated the Walker River water as agricultural use only and this decree is now within the 9th Circuit Court for a reversal to become generalized, beneficial use, which will secure the overall use necessary to reach Walker Lake’s shores again, by the possible date mentioned to be 2020.
As exciting as this prospect sounds, it was important to note the many aspects involved in returning the water properly and allowing a stable flow. There have been years of researching terrain, evaluating and modeling the correct manner of returning for a healthy water flow, while the corrections of streams and diversions must be made. The surface for the returning water will have to be made so the transferring water maintains a proper flow without being fully absorbed into the ground water systems. This will require construction and adjustments to be made, taking into account drought years and heavy runoff months.
Caryn Huntt DeCarlo from the Bureau of Reclamation explained that there were five federal agencies working on this project, two states involved, five non-profit agencies, three tribes, plus local city entities, plus educational input from The Desert Research Institute and the University of Reno. The research encompassed a comprehension of the entire basin, its structure and needs, current diversions, legally seeking in-stream flows as aligned by senior and junior water rights holders and the general water flows. Huntt DeCarlo stated, “The strategy of returning water is not simply turning on the flow, as one might believe. There are conservational concerns, upgraded facilities of structure required and an overall plan that will not only work once, but last in place for the future life of the lake.”