Lyon County Position Statement regarding Walker Lake/River water quality standards

YERINGTON - Concerned they might hurt the local economy, Lyon County officials are not pleased with proposed new state water quality standards for Walker Lake and the Walker River.

County commissioners approved a resolution opposing changes to the Nevada Water Pollution Control Regulations as suggested by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.

Commissioner David Fulstone said the resolution specifically objects to a standard set for dissolved oxygen and to the use of increased water flows as a means of changing water quality.

The two issues relate directly to concerns of south Lyon County residents that raising the water level of Walker Lake by using existing water rights will hurt the economy of the county.

Walker Lake is formed by surface and groundwater flow originating in the more than 4,270-acre Walker River water shed. It is one of only three terminal lakes in Nevada containing fish.

Because the lake has no outflow, dissolved solids entering it accumulate as the lake water evaporates.

The Walker River is the primary source for the lake. Due to agricultural diversions and the effects of drought years, the lake has dropped about 140 feet during the past 100 years. Reaching a level of 14,000 parts per million in 1995, the increased level of dissolved salts and minerals has threatened the fresh water fish population.

Proposed new standards would set a limit in Walker Lake at 12,000 parts per million.

The new state proposals are aimed at improving recreation opportunities and protecting the lake's fish habitat, particularly to restore a naturally reproducing Lahontan cutthroat trout fishery to the lake and river.

In approving the resolution, Lyon County officials say the Lahontan cutthroat trout does not reproduce naturally in the lake and is used solely as a "put and take" game fish by wild life officials. They also question whether the efforts to reach the proposed water quality standards will be successful and have persistently expressed skepticism with plans to saving Walker Lake as a fresh water fishery.

In response to State Water Planner Naomi Duerr's request on Jan. 6 for Lyon County's reaction to participating in a Walker River Basin Plan aimed at improving the water quality in Walker Lake, Fulstone, a Mason Valley rancher, said taking water out of the basin to raise the level of the lake would have a negative effect on the county's agricultural economy.

"As a rancher, I am the same as the water in the lake. If the water quality goes down, I (as a rancher) suffer like the fish. The fact is we are competing interests for the water and there is not enough to go around," Fulstone said. "Agriculture produces new money. Fish don't."

Commissioner LeRoy Goodman concurred.

"It is hard to believe Mineral County's economy depends on Walker Lake. Lyon County's depends on agriculture."


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