Walker Lake users wary of federal plan
On the surface, a federal plan to send more water to Walker Lake sounds like salvation for an injured ecosystem.
To some upstream observers, it sounds like a modern-day scheme to rob Peter and pay Paul.
Those observers include some Douglas County commissioners, who were asked recently by the Bureau of Land Management for comments on the plan.
The BLM is gathering comments for a report on the environmental impacts of obtaining water and rights from willing sellers in the Walker River basin.
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 and restore Walker Lake’s ecosystem.
The lake 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 water could help the fish.
The west fork of the Walker cuts through southern Douglas County, where it is dammed to form Topaz Lake. Though the Walker River doesn’t irrigate much Douglas ag land, it is used extensively for ranching in neighboring Smith and Mason valleys.
Douglas commissioners told BLM representative Dan Jacquet they favor farmland over fish.
“I understand why the people in Hawthorne would like to see (Walker) lake get higher,” said commissioner Bernie Curtis. “But you harm one end of the lifestyle to help the other end.”
“We’re going to be hungry before long if we keep drying up land,” added commissioner Kelly Kite.
“When you place plants, animals and fish on a higher priority than human beings, that’s where I draw the line,” said Commissioner Steve Weissinger. “To me, growing crops is more important than fish.”
Jacquet emphasized that the agency plans to consider economic issues, but couldn’t make any promises.
“We do want to go into this with our eyes open and consider those impacts,” he said.
The public comment period, which started Feb. 1, is the first step in a process that could take up to two years.
A draft environmental impact statement is expected Aug. 25. Once the initial statement is complete, another round of comment will be held and further amendments will be made.