Walker Lake, Nevada, is a most rare and precious international environmental, recreational historical and cultural resource. It is one of only a few desert terminus lake that long supported one of the West’s most outstanding trout fisheries and thousands of migratory birds. But because the Walker River system’s water has been chronically over-appropriated for decades, the Lake no longer supports fish, the migratory birds that rely on them or related recreational activities.
With Walker Basin’s water appropriated at 130 percent to agricultural uses, Walker Lake has lost more than 50 percent of its surface area and 180 vertical feet of water over the last 140 years. This lack of water caused higher concentrations of salts that made the 13-mile long lake, in west-central Nevada, intolerable to native fish. Loss of the fish has devastated the local tourism-related economy and displaced thousands of birds on the Pacific Flyway that relied on this oasis in the desert to refuel on their way to and from Canadian nesting grounds.
A solution to Walker Lake’s century-long deprivation of adequate water inflows is within reach. Recent federal court rulings offer opportunities to build off the congressionally funded efforts seeking a comprehensive settlement that brings a final, sustainable resolution to competing claims for the limited Walker Basin water supply. Funding is needed to finalize an enforceable agreement for a lake level at Walker Lake that will restore this important habitat and provide opportunities to rebuild Mineral County’s economy. Project includes funding for legal and technical experts to evaluate plans to be submitted to the U.S. District Court for ratification under the decree governing water rights in the Walker River Basin.
WALKER LAKE UPDATE
In January 2021 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Walker Lake Working Group (WLWG) and Mineral County, Nevada could pursue remedies for restoration of declining Walker Lake, so long as this did not involve reallocation of prior water rights.
The Ninth Circuit then sent the case back down to the U.S. District Court – District of Nevada, in Reno, where Walker Lake proponents found an earlier order from a departed Judge still awaiting them. This order required them to hand serve written notices of their Public Trust Claim in the Walker Lake litigation on all riparian landowners in the California portion of the Walker River Basin and to serve all subsequent filings by mail on all Walker Basin water rights holders, living throughout the country, as far away as Hawaii. While the WLWG and Mineral County are making good progress on serving the California riparian owners, that process and the continued burden of having to serve paper copies of every filing on the large total number of water rights holders in the basin is very costly for the Walker Lake proponents.
However, the judiciary, and perhaps even judicial philosophy have changed in Reno. Chief Judge Miranda M. Du, a graduate of the UC Berkeley School of Law, relieved the Walker Lake proponents of the requirement to continue service of paper copies by mail in the future.
Unfortunately, the advent and resurgence of Covid 19 has drastically slowed this legal process just when it is most needed to begin the practical application of the Public Trust Doctrine to the preservation of the Walker Basin and set a pathbreaking precedent of wildland protection throughout the state of Nevada.
Funding for legal efforts, facilitated by then US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 1994, allowed the WLWG to partner with Mineral County in the hiring of renowned environmental attorney Simeon Herskovits to join them in their public trust case. As lead attorney for the Great Basin Water Network, Mr. Herskovits won seven court victories in successfully blocking an attempt by Las Vegas to pump groundwater from rural northeast Nevada southward through a 250 mile pipeline. Previously, he worked with diverse coalitions to defeat a series of dangerous attempted water grabs in northern and southern California, including the original Cadiz Water Project.
The WLWG has currently exhausted their financial resources and now find themselves unable to fund future legal efforts, just as the legal tides are turning in their direction. I would ask the friends of Mono Lake to send their love, and contributions to our sister terminous lake.
Walker Lake Working Group
PO Box 867
Hawthorne, NV 89415
Your support and contributions will enable us to meet our goals in the fight to Save Walker Lake.