Cloud seeding part of Walker Lake rescue plan | NevadaAppeal.com

Cloud seeding part of Walker Lake rescue plan

by Kurt Hildebrand
Nevada Appeal News Service

Public comment is being sought on a plan to spend $1.36 million to seed clouds above the Walker River Basin.

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a draft environmental assessment in the plan to increase precipitation over the Walker River to help provide more fresh water to Walker Lake.

According to a notice issued last week, the bureau’s Desert Terminal Lakes Program will provide a grant to the Desert Research Institute to conduct the project.

Ground-based cloud seeders would be located in Douglas, Churchill and Mineral counties in Nevada and in Mono and Tuolumne counties in California.

The project would continue through the spring of 2015 and would include installing and operating six ground-based cloud seeding stations from November through April and a contract for 50 hours of airborne cloud seeding from December through March.

The effectiveness of the effort would be determined by measuring stream flows on the Walker.

Each of the ground sites includes a device mounted on a trailer and a 16-foot antenna. The trailers would be moved into place at the beginning of the season and then moved away in spring.

The cloud-seeding generators burn silver iodide, sodium iodide, salt and acetone to release microscopic silver iodide particles, which can help form ice crystals, thus making snow.

Some of the sites are in sage grouse habitat, so the antennas will have to be lowered in the spring to keep birds of prey from perching there to hunt the grouse.

Draft copies of the environmental assessment are available for viewing at the Smith Valley and Yerington branches of the Lyon County Library; at the Bridgeport Library and at the Mineral County Library in Hawthorne.

A draft copy is also available online at http://www.usbr.gov/mp/nepa_projdetails.cfm?project_ID=6616.

Anyone interested in commenting should send them by Dec. 3 to jcschmidt@usbr.gov or mail them to Jane Schmidt, Bureau of Reclamation, 705 N. Plaza St., Room 320, Carson City, NV, 89701. Comments also may be faxed to 775-882-7592.

Cloud seeding is part of a plan to obtain enough fresh water from the Walker River basin to reduce the salinity in Walker Lake.

There is up to $70 million available to purchase water rights along the Walker River to preserve Walker Lake.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which currently administers the Columbia Basin Water Transaction Program, intends to follow that model to acquire and transfer water downstream.

The group will need to obtain an average of 57,000 to 82,000 acre-feet of water a year to get 50,000 acre-feet per year to Walker Lake. How the program is implemented will determine the impact on groundwater levels in the Walker River basin.

Bridgeport and Topaz Lake reservoirs aren’t projected to change significantly because acquired storage rights would still be expected to be exercised during the irrigation season.

It will take 2 million acre-feet of fresh water to dilute the dissolved solids in Walker Lake to just three times their original amount.

According to a study prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey, Walker Lake is up to 18,000 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, increasing the lake’s salinity to the point where it threatens survival of native species. In 1882, the lake had 2,500 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids.

Walker Lake is part of old Lake Lahontan, which existed between 12,000 and 650,000 years ago. Lahontan included Pyramid Lake, Honey Lake and the Carson Sink.

According to the study, Walker Lake has dried up on at least two occasions since it was separated from Lake Lahontan, once for 500 years between 5,300 and 4,800 years ago and again for 600 years between 2,700 and 2,100 years ago. The lake may have dried up during those two periods when the Walker River meandered into the adjoining Carson River basin. Walker Lake is at its lowest level during the past two millennia.