A group of environmentalists, Native Americans and Mineral County officials is calling on the state and federal government to find more water for Walker Lake immediately because they say the fishery there is in danger of dying.
Lou Thompson of the Walker Lake Working Group said the drought and increased water use upstream has left Walker Lake without fresh flow from the Walker River for two years.
The result, he said, is increasing salinity in the lake is threatening to kill the cutthroat and other fish in the lake and the lake itself is in danger of drying up. The water level has dropped more than two feet in just the past two years.
He said the federal government has some water rights on a ranch purchased recently and the state also has some water rights that could help. Walker Lake is located north of Hawthorne along the Walker River, about 100 miles southeast of Carson City.
"Unless we can get some relief or Mother Nature comes through, we'll lose our fishery," he said.
He was joined by Walker River Paiute Tribe Culture coordinator Raymond Hoferer who said the situation is tied up in bureaucratic red tape as the federal government studies the situation.
"At this point, it's a stalemate," he said. "As long as people are dragging their feet, it's dying every day.
"It's going to be a real nasty ecological disaster if that takes place and our culture's tied right to it," said Hoferer pointing out that the Paiute tribe regards the lake as sacred and has relied on it for thousands of years.
Thompson said he has tried to get the governor to act but, thus far, without success. He said the federal government as well has been unable to move faster.
Further, he said a bill providing money to help save Walker and Pyramid lakes sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., was made much less effective for their cause by an amendment from Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., preventing the money from being used to buy or lease water rights for the lake.
Thompson said even if the group can free upstream water rights, "It's going to require state action to get the water to the lake."
He said he understands upstream water users fear any guarantees providing water to the lake.
"They see it as a threat to their lifestyle and economy," he said.
Thompson said if all else fails, they are looking into taking the issue to federal court to try protect the ancient lake.
Both Hoferer and Mineral County Commissioner Kevin Ludlow said they would support that if necessary. Hoferer said, however, the tribe has not yet officially acted on a resolution to back legal action.
Dan Jacquet of the Bureau of Land Management said the agency is moving as quickly as possible and hopes to have an environmental impact statement ready in 30 to 60 days.
"BLM is actively pursuing actions to get water to the lake," he said. "Our purpose is to save the lake."