$14.9 million trust will preserve water rights for Walker Lake

Visitors pour water into Walker Lake for a Rehydration Celebration of the lake's 15-foot rise. Photo by David Carle

Visitors pour water into Walker Lake for a Rehydration Celebration of the lake's 15-foot rise. Photo by David Carle

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct Dr. Philip Garone's first name and affiliation.

The Walker Basin Conservancy announced a $14.9 million trust has been established to protect water rights in the basin to help with the recovery of Walker Lake.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation funded the trust to cover the costs of water assessments, similar to property taxes, in perpetuity.

“This is a major accomplishment for the Conservancy and ensures our work to restore Walker Lake and increase the flows of the Walker River will be secure for generations to come,” said the Conservancy’s Executive Director Peter Stanton.

The funds will provide long-term support for The Walker River Irrigation District and U.S. Board of Water Commissioners, covering the assessment of formerly irrigated acres to support administration and delivery of water in the Walker River system.

The Walker River passes through eastern Douglas County and is the source for Topaz Lake.

The Conservancy has taken a comprehensive approach to increasing the flows of the Walker River and reversing the ecological collapse of Walker Lake. 

A key part of that approach has been ensuring that changes in irrigation through the Walker Basin Restoration Program are accompanied by ongoing support to the Irrigation District and U.S. Board of Water Commissioners. “The establishment of this trust, years in the making, is a demonstration of our long-term commitment to our region and our partners,” said Stanton.

Visitors came from as far away as Sacramento to participate in the Sept. 23 Walker Lake Working Group’s Rehydration Celebration acknowledging Nature’s generosity in raising the lake 15 feet.

The event opened with a prayer in her native language from Walker River Paiute Tribal Chairwoman Andrea Martinez. Lorna Weaver, long-time Walker Lake Working Group member welcomed visitors and thanked all those who helped the Lake’s preservation efforts in the past.

Richard Potashin, one of Group’s newest members, escorted the crowd to the shore for the.

Gabby, Andrea’s daughter, played a traditional drum and sang about a time when pelicans flew over the lake. 

“With waves lapping around their ankles Andrea and Richard shared their personal connections to Walker Lake,” organizers said. “Andrea seemed to bring the lake alive evoking the lake’s Paiute name Agai Pah meaning ‘Trout Lake,’ a reference to the large Lahontan Cutthroat trout that lived in the lake. Her ancestors lived around the lake and relied on the lake’s fish and bird populations for food.”

They were known as the Agai Ticutta or “Trout Eaters.”   

“Walker Lake is not a lost cause and we must continue the fight to restore it as a viable ecosystem,” Potashin said. The crowd then raised their water bottles and emptied the contents, symbolically raising the lake.

California State University, Stanislaus, History Professor Dr. Philip Garone spoke about the lake’s inception as part of Ancient Lake Lahontan and traced its precipitous decline due to upstream agricultural development.

Walker Basin Conservancy’s Water Program Director Carlie Henneman, talked about the Conservancy’s past successes in acquiring water rights and its ongoing efforts to obtain more water for the lake.

Great Basin Bird Observatory’s Ned Bohman confirmed that Walker Lake remains full of bird life.

Although some species await a rise in water levels and the return of native fishes, other species like grebes, ruddy ducks and coots are satisfied to take advantage of current conditions.

Retired Nevada Department of Wildlife Fisheries Biologist Mike Sevon played The Walker Lake Blues” on his harmonica.

Much of Sevon’s career was dedicated to working with the native fishes of the lake.

“With increased water levels, lower total dissolved solid levels, and access to local refugia, the prized Lahontan Cutthroat Trout and Tui chub could be successfully reintroduced,” he told the audience, “we can hope and work toward that outcome.”

The Rehydration event also acknowledged the contributions of long time Walker Lake Working Group members, Glenn Bunch, President and Marlene Bunch, Treasurer with a special award. The award was well deserved considering the Bunches have worked over 30 years fighting the good fight to save and restore Walker Lake. And this day was no-exception as Glen and Marlene toiled away at the Working Group booth selling WLWG swag, raffle tickets and answering Walker Lake questions.

Dozens of event goers toured the lake by canoes provided by the Mono Lake Committee and guided by naturalists and Walker Lake History experts. “

The successful event raised more than $2,000 in donations and additional memberships for Working Group, two factors critical to continuing their work in restoring the lake.

Donations may be sent to the Walker Lake Working Group through WLWg.org and to the Walker Basin Conservancy at WalkerBasin.org. You can also become a member of the group online.


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