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Walker Lake:  Nevada's International Treasure



Walker Lake Historic Water Levels  graphic depicts the rapid decline of Walker Lake following diversions of  Walker River water for upstream agriculture.   The current situation is that wet years between 1995 and 1998 raised the water level of Walker lake by about 15 feet.  However, normal precipitation patterns returned causing Walker Lake to once again fall 9 feet by the summer of 2001.   Walker Lake, once approximately 27 miles long, now is around 15 miles in length requiring the Walker River to flow an additional 12 miles to reach the declining lake.  Walker Lake needs at least 135,000 to 140,000 acre-feet of river flows on average per year  to stabilize  around elevation 3990.

Walker Lake Water Surface Elevation

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Walker Lake Historic Volumes graphic depicts the loss of  7 million acre-feet of water once contained within Walker Lake.  Following  water diversions of  Walker River water for upstream agriculture, too little water reached the lake.  Evaporation from the lake's surface was not replenished by water from the Walker River causing a continual loss of water volume.   The current situation is that wet years between 1995 and 1998 raised the volume of water in Walker lake somewhat.  However, normal precipitation patterns returned causing Walker Lake to again approach the 2 million acre-foot volume.  The smaller the volume of a "terminal" lake like Walker Lake, the higher the salinity of the water.   The current salinity of Walker Lake is approaching lethal  levels for Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) and tui chub, the prey-base for the LCT, cannot successfully reproduce.  A volume of water needed for Walker Lake is between 3 to 4 million acre-feet to reduce salinity to healthy levels for the fish.

Walker Lake Water Volume

 
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Walker Lake has seen dramatic increases in salinity as measured by total dissolved solids (TDS).  This graphic  shows the relationship between dropping water levels and rising salinity.   While Walker Lake is still far fresher than seawater, it is rapidly reaching the tolerance limits of its native freshwater fish species.    Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) barely survive at the present TDS levels and tui chub, the prey-base for LCT, are far less successful in reproduction.  Once levels of  TDS rise above 13,000 ppm (parts per million), tui chub may not be able to reproduce at all .   For the LCT and the tui-chub to thrive in a healthier lake ecosystem, the TDS needs to be at or below 8,000 ppm.  This can be acheived at a higher lake level  (around 3990 feet elevation) with water volumes between 3 to 4 million acre-feet.

Walker Lake: Dramatic increases in salinity and decline in water surface elevation

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Acreage in agricultural production has increased dramatically from the 1950's.  Agricultural irrigation is supported by direct diversion of surface water from the Walker River and , since the 1960's,  "supplemental" groundwater through extensive pumping.

Walker River flows are used by upstream agricultural interests before it can reach Walker lake

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Walker Lake Take Action

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