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Public comment period for walker River plan

by Christy Chalmers

Public comment is being sought on a federal plan to obtain Walker River water rights that might help settle lawsuits and protect Walker Lake’s ecosystem.

The Bureau of Land Management announced Monday that an environmental impact statement will be prepared by an independent contractor who will analyze the impacts of obtaining water and rights from willing sellers in the Walker River basin. The public comment period, which started Feb. 1, is the first step in a process that could take up to two years.

“It’s really the first chance for the public to come in and get briefed,” said Mark Struble, a BLM public affairs officer. “The main thing we want to do is talk to the governmental entities and have them tell us what their thoughts and concerns are, and answer questions like if we’re going to do it, how we’re going to do it and what’s the fairest way to do it.”

A statement from the BLM says the potential impacts to agriculture in Smith and Mason valleys will be considered. Mike McQueen, environmental coordinator for the BLM’s Carson City field office, said he expects many comments.

“We’re well aware that one of the big concerns will be the socioeconomic effects,” he said. “I really don’t know how far this would extend. That’s something that will definitely be investigated in these documents.”

The federal government is currently litigating over several claims to Walker River water rights. Acquisition of existing rights could help to settle some of those claims.

In addition, Walker Lake’s ecosystem has been threatened by increasing water salinity, which is harmful to tui chub and the Lahontan cutthroat trout. Decreases in the fish population could mean more than 1,400 migrating loons and other fish-eating birds would avoid the lake.

More federally-held water rights could also benefit the trout, because previous and current water uses have altered the river habitat and prevented the trout from migrating upstream to spawn.

Lahontan cutthroat trout are listed as threatened on the endangered species list. The current trout population is maintained through hatchery breeding programs.

A draft environmental impact statement is expected Aug. 25. Four public meetings will be held, starting Feb. 16 in Yerington at the Lyon County Library. The others are scheduled Feb. 17 in Mineral County, Feb. 23 in Bridgeport and Feb. 29 in Carson City.

McQueen said several groups have been studying the Walker River system and their findings will be incorporated into the environmental impact statement. Once the initial statement is complete, another round of comment will be held and further amendments will be made.

“This is just the starting point,” McQueen said. “We’ve made a proposal. What we’re looking for from the public is are there issues involved, and then are there alternatives. People can suggest alternatives, and we will take that and go back and look at the proposal.”

Details

Meetings to gather public comment on the Walker River proposal are scheduled at 7 p.m. on the following dates:

Feb. 16, Lyon County Library, 20 Nevin Way, Yerington

Feb. 17, Mineral County Library, 110 First St., Hawthorne

Feb. 23, Memorial Hall, School Street, Bridgeport, Calif.

Feb. 29: BLM Carson City Field Office, 5665 Morgan Mill Road, Carson City

For more information: call BLM team leader Walt Devaurs at 885-6150 or e-mail him a wdevaurs@nv.blm.gov. Mike McQueen can be reached at 885-6120 or e-mail him at mmcqueen@nv.blm.gov.