Why is Walker Lake declining?


As a result of declining water levels, salinity in Walker Lake has increased dramatically to the point that the lake can no longer support its native fish and wildlife populations. The primary purpose of the Walker Basin Restoration Program (WBRP) is to acquire water from willing sellers to restore and maintain Walker Lake.

mapOngoing loss of fresh water flows to the lake has caused its elevation to drop nearly 150 feet and lose roughly 80% of its volume during the past century.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, farmers and cattlemen established communities in the Walker River Basin, part of the ancestral home of the Northern Paiute people. Natural flows from the Walker River were diverted to support hay, pasture, and other irrigated crops. In the 1920s, the newly formed Walker River Irrigation District (WRID) built a pair of dams on the east and west forks of the Walker River to store winter and early spring runoff for use later in the season when natural flows ran out. In addition, Weber Dam was built on the Walker River Paiute Tribe Reservation in 1935.

For decades, diversions from the river have sustained a strong agricultural economy but produced an unintended consequence: dramatically reduced freshwater inflows to Walker Lake, a natural desert lake at the terminus of the Walker River in Nevada.