Federal government's study into river basin causing clash

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YERINGTON - Suspicions about the federal government's efforts to purchase water rights in the Walker River basin are fueling opposition to the plan.

Lyon County's leaders want the hearing process on the basin environmental impact study slowed down. Others want it stopped altogether.

The study is an effort by the federal government to find a way of satisfying everyone in the Walker River basin without hurting upstream users. It is brewing into the latest Nevada confrontation between local users and federal managers.

For example, Yerington resident David Haight claims that information given at the Bureau of Land Management's four informational scoping meetings has not been consistent. He also says that federal officials have been withholding informational sources.

"I question whether they (governmental agencies) have been lying to us," Haight said in a recent interview. "They have told different stories to different groups and I want the public scoping meetings to be declared null and void."

The Bureau of Land Management is the lead federal agency in the process of preparing an environmental impact statement as a basis for obtaining water and/or water rights from willing sellers in the Walker River Basin for the purposes of protecting the lake's ecosystem from the harmful effects of increasing salinity, settlement of federal water litigation and to assist with the recovery of the Lahontan cutthroat trout.

BLM Carson City Field Office Manager John Singlaub said Thursday that Haight's claims are simply not true and the same information was given at each of the four meetings.

"We are using all information available," he said. "Certainly the Thomas Report was key, but there is a whole lot of information out there and we intend to use it."

An outspoken critic of taking water from the basin, Haight is particularly concerned the loss would negatively impact domestic wells within the basin. Using the Thomas Report, issued by the U.S. Geological Survey in December 1997, he claims the project would not be successful in lowering the salinity of the lake to a level that would support the government's goals.

The Thomas report states that in addition to an annual increase of approximately 47,000 acre feet of water, another 700,000 acre feet is needed just to bring the salinity of Walker Lake to an acceptable level.

"I have based my conclusions on the Thomas Report, the same report the BLM and Bureau of Reclamation have stated they used as their sole source of informational data," Haight said. "They now specify 470,000 acre feet of water is needed to bring the lake up to a desired level. This could not have been gotten from the Thomas Report."

Haight said the recently formed Dynamic Action on Wells Group, a corporation to protect the interests of domestic well users on the Walker River, will be sending written requests to BLM and the BOR.

"The reason we picked this name is because they are treating the people in Lyon County like dogs," he explained. "John Singlaub told the people of Yerington Walker Lake will not go dry on his watch. DAWG will do whatever it can to prevent domestic wells from going dry on its watch."

In addition to asking that the four public meetings be declared invalid, Haight has written to the BLM asking for four new meetings. He said the entire impact statement process should be stopped until full discovery is made and the corporation has time to review the information.

Singlaub said he knew nothing of Haight's actions and would consider his letter when it is received.

"This is news to me. I would like to hear it from him and not the newspaper, but that is his option," he said. "I am not sure what his point is to stop a public process whose purpose is to get as much information as possible and to get as educated a decision as possible. If he has information, I would hope he would share it with us."

Informed Wednesday of Haight's objections, Bureau of Reclamation Civil Engineer Carol Grenier said the statement is needed to find out if saving Walker Lake is feasible without decimating the economy of upstream users.

"We know there will be impacts on the groundwater and the economy," she said. "I don't see why people have a problem with changing numbers if the numbers get better."

Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Area Manager Steve Alcorn said the scoping process is one of the earliest stages of the impact statement process and is but one portion of the data collection effort thepreparation team must undertake before analysis can take place.

"Acquisitions of large numbers of Walker River Basin water rights are not inevitable," Alcorn said. "Completion of an EIS does not assure action will be implemented. The EIS is not a decision document."

Using available figures, Haight says that in addition to the 47,000 acre feet per year the BLM claims is needed to maintain the lake at a healthy level, another 47,000 acre feet per year will be needed for 10 years to bring the lake up to the desired elevation of 3,964 feet.

"If they do this, the dissolved salts will decrease for the first 10 years and bottom out at 10,263 mg/l and then will begin to increase again, quite rapidly," he claimed. "So, even if they do find the water, it will never reach the stated goal of less than 10,000 mg/l. and maintain it. If my analysis is not correct, let them tell me."

Claiming U.S. Senator Reid is one of the prime pushers of the Save Walker Lake movement, Haight asks: "How many little people is Senator Reid going to destroy with his foolish attempt to make a few fish happy?"

Sen. Harry Reid said Friday the goal is help both fish and fishers.

"For those people who fish the Walker River it is important to preserve the river," Reid said. "My son is a fly fisherman and the East Walker is his favorite place to fish in all the country."

Reid said the point of the program is to try and save Walker Lake without hurting those living along the Walker River.

"The Walker River is one of the most singular things we have in all of Nevada," Reid said. "In the entire world there are only 21 lakes like Walker Lake. It's called a desert terminus lake and it is a wonder of nature."

Reid said he does not want to hurt upstream users, he just wants to try and help the lake.

"Mason and Smith valleys are very productive agricultural areas and there is no one who wants to take away their ability to farm, but we should also try to save Walker Lake," he said.

No action can be taken until the statement is completed and a record of decision is prepared, the record identifies the decision, identifies any mitigating measures to be employed and explains why the decision has been made. Once completed, the record is printed in the Federal Register, and no action can occur for at least 30 days following publication to allow the public one last opportunity to comment on the decision.


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