Walker River environmental study challenged

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YERINGTON -- An outspoken opponent of removing additional upstream water to save Walker Lake says a recently released environmental study of the project is incomplete.

David Haight, Yerington resident and president of Dynamic Action on Wells Group, also asserts an investigation of the Desert Research Institute, author of the Walker River Environmental Statement, is warranted.

Haight compares the Walker River EIS to federal studies resulting in the controversial federally mandated Klamath Project on the Oregon-California border.

"The lack of valid science employed on the Klamath River pales in comparison to what is in the process of being applied to the Walker River Basin System. There is obviously a great deal of scientific controversy on whether or not Walker Lake can be saved using sound science. Perhaps a request should be made to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton to have the National Academy of Sciences investigate the entire Walker River, Walker Lake, Lahontan Cutthroat Trout program," Haight said.

University and DRI officials strongly defend DRI's credentials and research abilities. Regent Dorothy Gallagher, while not familiar with the details of the environmental statement, said DRI was recently evaluated by the National Board of Science and has an "absolutely stellar" reputation.

"I don't believe the University System would challenge DRI. They have our complete trust," she said from her Elko home.

The Klamath River project received national attention this past summer when irrigation water was diverted from drought parched farmlands to increase flows into the Upper Klamath Lake and Klamath River in efforts to save two endangered suckerfish species and the Coho salmon.

In response to allegations by farmers that "junk science" had prompted the irrigation cutoff in the 240,000-acre project, in November 2001, Norton called for a review by the National Academy of Science. The academy of science committee reviewing studies leading to the contentious decision determined government scientists lacked substantive evidence the cutoff of water to area farmers helped the endangered salmon and suckerfish.

After reviewing the 900-page Walker River EIS and its associated documents with his technical team, Haight claims data that would have contradicted the DRI's intended result was purposely left out, including:

-- Evaporative losses in estimating the amount of additional ground water needed to save Walker Lake. Scientific studies generally estimate a ratio of approximately 3:1 (three acre feet of water will result in one-acre foot of water reaching its destination). The numbers within the environmental statement indicate a ratio of 2:1.

-- Known weather data of the past 1,000 years, which Haight claims would destroy the study's basis of using an 80-year projection. Last fall, Haight presented a tree growth study showing 300-year weather cycles, dating back to 800 A.D.

The Bureau of Land Management is the coordinating agency putting together the project to evaluate environmental impacts of proposed solutions achieving three primary goals relating to Walker Lake and the upstream watershed: obtaining enough additional upstream water and water rights to establish a satisfactory salinity level in Walker Lake; settling federal water claims along the river; and, establishing a self-sustaining Lahontan Cutthroat trout population.

The Desert Research Institute, an autonomous, nonprofit statewide division of the University of Nevada system, was contracted by the BLM to draft the environmental statement.

Haight takes aim at the university and DRI.

"I am not a lawyer, but I believe their EIS documents are fraudulent. Never have I been exposed to documents, alleged to be scientific in nature, as unprofessional as these. In trying to save a terminal sink (Walker Lake) the university has apparently decided to try and solve an unsolvable problem, and do it with a grossly inadequate water supply," he stated. "The university's attempt to address the economic impact to both Mason and Smith Valleys is absurd. Existing data that conflicts with data used is ignored. The numbers are bogus. The destruction of both valleys will be total."

Project Manager John Tracey, DRI director of watersheds and environmental sustainability, said the report was reviewed by technical peers. He stands by the information in the EIS.

"This document addresses an overall view of the entire Walker River Basin. It is a good report and contains quality information," he stated.

Tracy acknowledged some errors in the 900-page document weren't caught before its release to cooperating agencies, but said it would be corrected prior to its release for public review. He emphasized the Department of the Interior will make the final decision regarding Walker Lake and the report is simply supposed to reflect what alternatives and resultant tradeoffs are available.

The document also stirred strong words of disagreement from both local cooperating agencies. In letters of response, the Mason Valley and Smith Valley conservation districts stated the draft document contains numerous sections of insufficient or incorrect data and, "inadequately, and in some cases, falsely addresses adverse impacts to the environment and contains numerous technical errors or omissions."

Following an extended review and comment period and after changes are incorporated into the document, an official draft environmental statement will be released for a 60-day public review and comment period.


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