Walker Basin Conservancy is responsible for the implementation of the Walker Basin Restoration Program (Program), previously administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Program was established by Public Law 111-85 (2009) for the primary purpose of restoring and maintaining Walker Lake, and to protect agricultural, environmental and habitat interests in the Walker Basin consistent with that primary purpose. Decades of reduced freshwater inflows have resulted in a decline of the lake’s volume and an increase in lake salinity, which today threaten to cause its complete ecological collapse. The health of Walker Lake is critical to many species, including the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout that once populated the lake. Migratory fowl, including the common loon, once used Walker Lake as a stopover on the Pacific Flyway.
To restore Walker Lake, Walker Basin Conservancy works with willing sellers in the basin to acquire water rights and convey this water use to Walker Lake to benefit native wildlife.
Acquisitions of Land and Water
Walker Basin Conservancy works in partnership with local communities, private landowners, water managers, tribes and a variety of public agencies to restore Walker Lake. Working with willing sellers to acquire water rights, and related assets, the Conservancy is on its way to acquiring enough water to reach our restoration goal for Walker Lake (12,000 mg/L TDS) a reality. To date, approximately $82 million of Program funds have been expended to acquire 43.7% of the water needed to restore Walker Lake’s fishery.
Program Water is monitored with several USGS gages in the Walker Basin. These gages help the Conservancy monitor the amount of Program Water instream to ensure its protection to Walker Lake.
Acquired surface Water Assets
Location Surface Decree Storage Water
(Cubic Feet Per Second) (Acre Feet)
East Walker River 39.45 5,345
Mason Valley 52.79 6,096
West Walker River 15.84 1,016
Total: 108.09 12,458
Legally Protecting Water Instream
After water rights are purchased for Program goals, the water must be legally protected in the river to reliably increase instream flows to Walker Lake. Before acquired water can flow to Walker Lake, the purpose and place of use need to be changed (change application) through a process set by the Nevada State Engineer and confirmed by the federal Walker River Decree court. Once the various legal approvals are complete, the acquired water (now monitored as Program Water) will be protected in perpetuity for the instream benefit of Walker River and Walker Lake for ecological purposes.
The first change application, filed in 2011, was confirmed in May 2018 by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court, and subsequent confirmation at the federal Walker River Decree court, makes it possible for the Conservancy to begin calling on that specific Program Water during the irrigation season when it is in priority. The priority date (which is the date of seniority of a decreed water right) is determined daily by the federal water master and sets which water rights can be fulfilled based on the natural streamflow that day. The Conservancy has since filed additional change applications and will continue to do so to ensure all Program Water can be protected for the benefit of Walker Lake.
Walker Basin Conservancy works closely with the Walker River Paiute Tribe to ensure that Program Water will flow through the Walker River Paiute Reservation on the lower reach of the Walker River to Walker Lake, without effecting the Tribe’s existing water rights. This is accomplished through a lower Walker River Conveyance agreement between the Conservancy and the Walker River Paiute Tribe.
Walker Basin Hydro Mapper
Through a partnership with USGS Nevada, the Conservancy has developed an interactive mapping application (Hydro Mapper) to provide basin-wide perspective of real-time streamflow and lake and reservoir storage levels for the Walker Basin. The Hydro Mapper also provides access to historic streamflow, lake and reservoir data. This tool was developed to create a common operating picture for water users in the Walker Basin and to help monitor changes to instream flows associated with the Program. Click on the image below for access to the USGS Nevada Hydro Mapper.