As Walker Lake has continued an immense water decline this year, exposed areas on the north and south side of the oval lake’s shoreline pose an extended ecological collapse.
White encrusted sand shows the extreme alkali debris, while emphasizing the devastating water losses experienced over many years of neglect. As a drought continues to keep warmer temperatures within the Nevada basin, residents and travelers lament over the memories of a once vital recreational past within these waters.
In 2009 the famous Loon Festival was canceled by the lack of migrating birds, due to the abandonment of thriving fish that once fed many wildlife. Once drawing 300-400 visitors to the local region, this festival was the last to close down it’s annual plans to welcome bird watchers and lake lovers in a celebration of nature. This valley was a haven, encased between the Wassuk and Gillis mountain ranges. It was well-known as a vacationers paradise.
Today the extreme levels of salted waters has killed off what little fish were left as a floundering habitat within the lake. Once the Loon Festival closed down, it removed the last main recreational event for Walker Lake. Many fishermen longingly recall the established fishing derbies, which drew boaters and recreational campers flooding into the area. Local recreation was a main stay for the county, as boat races and swimmers lined the beaches.
With upstream agricultural diversions and exploited water use, Walker Lake has taken a constant blow from receiving the natural in-stream of Walker River water which was necessary for a terminus lake to retain its correct habitat. A reported drop of 183 feet between 1882 to 2016 has been documented since the diversion of upstream water began, with today’s levels being reported by the Walker Lake Crusaders as being a six vertical inch decline just since a month ago on Oct. 1.
Over 30 years ago the lake was recorded at 3971.80 elevation above sea level. Today the lake is at 3907.50 while experiencing a further daily decline. This 11 mile lake, with an approximate five mile width is experiencing lethal limits of TDS (total dissolved solids) which not only killed off the native Cutthroat Trout from existing years ago, it has been determined that the few sturdy Tui Chubs, once able to thrive within the salted waters, have also no longer maintained a proper breeding environment.
Natural springs, which barely fed the lakes edges, now have dry, deep ridges and the once natural runoff areas are now blocked by rocks and debris, no longer providing a properly maintained flow once the seasonal snow melt comes. This easy to understand equation displays the answer to drastic changes in migrating birds and other habitat abandoning this lake’s environment.
Even the wild mustangs, once contained at the south end of the lake with a proper fencing, are now roaming freely into the beach fronts of the residential areas within the Walker Lake township. This is due to fencing being well over 25 feet from the shoreline. The wild horses are provided with a stable footing to venture out to new unsecured feeding spots.
While directives under the oversight of Senator Harry Reid were put in place from 2002 forward, the purchase of water rights is slowly underway to formulate a foundation that includes a renewal for Walker Lake. This effort has included extensive research, education, Tamarisk eradication, channel water delivery, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Walker River Paiute Tribe and Nevada’s Department of Wildlife. And yet, the fingers of involvement has continued to include a handful of dedicated locals which refuse to see this natural Great Water Basin lake eventually become a salty desert of sand.
Residents are urged to become involved in this restoration project. Anyone is welcome to attend the Walker Lake Working Group or view their website for further information. Meetings are generally held the second Monday of every month at 2 p.m., in the library conference room.
This week, many concerned citizens will be attending the Desert Terminus Lakes Symposium in Reno, to review the overall environmental and economic research gathered to improve the losses as related to the Walker Basin Project.