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.
Bureau of Land Management officials said Friday 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, bureau 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 bureau says the potential impacts to agriculture in Smith and Mason valleys will be considered. Mike McQueen, environmental coordinator for the bureau'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 going to court 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.
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 email@example.com. Mike McQueen can be reached at 885-6120 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.