Sheri Samson
Walker Lake resident Pat McKay looks over a table of postcards and information at the recent Walker Lake forum in Hawthorne.

The free Walker Lake forum held at the convention center and presented by the Walker Lake Working Group, with the assistance of the Hawthorne Chapter of Soroptimist, was well attended.

Literature was available and a program of highly informed speakers, attendees were greeted by a ticket for a drawing of selected items. A silent auction took place, with over 40 locally donated gifts, as well as out-of-area supportive donations from Mono Lake and Lee Vining.

Visitors milled around the Walker Basin Conservancy booth, while others zeroed in on a table that Toby Montoya had designed with lake memorabilia. Montoya is a longtime lake supporter, dedicating many volunteer efforts toward the betterment of the lake’s survival. A video played facts and vintage photos of the lake’s history, including the original floating “Cecil the Serpent” at the water’s edge.

The lake rising eight vertical feet since January 2017 was among his positives, while offset by the fact that in over 80 years, the lake declined 176 vertical feet, with the upstream diversions.

“Last year we were at 3,909.84 feet above sea level, but today we are at 3,914.60, so the recent rains and snow packs have helped us begin toward further restoration – but there is still a long way to go before our eco system can regain the natural fish and habitat that once lived in and around these lake waters,” Montoya shared.

In charting the lake by the U.S. Geological Study’s daily elevation of surface water, the salinity (also known as Total Dissolved Solids or TDS) would need the lake to be at approximately 3,925 feet for the Tui Chub to survive, whereas the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (LCT) would require levels of about 3,935 feet to provide the necessary TDS reduction for a healthy return of fish.

Kris Urquhart, a Fisheries Biologist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, stated that he worked in collaboration with the base and many other entities to provide the breeding and spawning of the LCT in the Mt. Grant streams, which was a nine-year effort toward the recovery of the future lake’s fish. Efforts at Rose Creek brought in sporadic sports fishing programs with other controllable species. Urquhart praised the excessive rainfalls and snow pack, but stressed that sustainability will be a long-term continued effort toward water sourcing.

Ashley Downing from the Walker Basin Conservancy explained the concentrated procedures and the slow acquisitions that have been taking place, are now yielding 40 percent of current water rights purchased toward the restoration processes that Walker Lake requires.

The National Fish and Wildlife have been involved within these transactions as part of an overall picture that can complete the Walker River Basin Project. The vision to recreate the cycle of species which once frequented the lake waters (such as specific bugs to birds, fish life and plants) has not been a quick or easy undertaking to achieve. Currently a variety of groups, including

The Walker Lake Working Group, will be heard by the Ninth Circuit Court on this issue of beneficial water rights in August 2017 in Pasadena, Calif. This is following over 14 years of dedication, foundational requirements, study, land evaluation, regional court cases denied, many negotiations and intricate involvements or agreements from many directions.

Lorna Weaver, Walker Lake Grant Administrator was on hand to explain that although there is a Public Trust Doctrine in place which states that water is a public right of navigation and use of fisheries in water resources, it was the C-125 decree that emerged in 1936 which challenged and changed the course of a natural river run which deterred it from Walker Lake.

Weaver explained that since 1994 Mineral County and the Walker Lake Working Group began a litigation approach in turning the C-125 decree to beneficial use. They have been learning, earning support from government groups, expanding and continuing this fight ever since.