The Walker Basin Restoration Program was established by Congress in October 2009. The Program's primary purpose is to restore and maintain Walker Lake, and to protect agricultural, environmental and habitat interests in the Walker River Basin. Walker Lake is a natural desert lake in Nevada at the terminus of the Walker River Basin which includes lands in Nevada and California.
Walker Lake is critical to recovery of the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout and is an important stopover for common loons and other migratory birds. However, many decades of depleted freshwater inflows have resulted in declines of lake elevation and increases in lake salinity which today threaten its ecological balance.
To reverse Walker Lake's decline and promote its long-term recovery, the program is striving to find balance between the interests of landowners, water-user organizations, Indian tribes, local governments, state and federal agencies, and non-profit organizations. It seeks to increase flows in the Walker River to Walker Lake through a comprehensive basin-wide strategy that relies on voluntary water transactions and water management initiatives; community-based conservation and stewardship; and applied research and demonstration projects. This is being accomplished through an integrated mix of efforts based on the authority and funding provided by Congress through a grant agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation that includes:
- A voluntary water rights acquisition program with willing sellers to reduce upstream water use with permanent increases in freshwater inflows to the Lake;
- A water leasing demonstration program developed and administered by the Walker River Irrigation District (WRID);
- Associated research, evaluation, modeling, and decision support activities at the University of Nevada-Reno and the Desert Research Institute; and
- A conservation and stewardship program focused on land stewardship, water conservation, alternative agriculture, and watershed improvement in cooperation with the Walker Basin Conservancy, a local non-profit established in 2014 to hold and manage acquired assets and support other purposes of the program.
To date, the program has acquired more than 98 cubic feet per second of natural flow decree water rights, 11,760 acre feet of storage water rights, 13,380 acre feet of groundwater rights, and over 15,700 acres of land from willing sellers for approximately $76.7 million. Through the 2016 irrigation season the program has initiated revegetation projects on almost 1,100 acres of land (with an additional 560 to commence in 2017), and completed a donation of approximately 1,600 acres to benefit the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area. In addition, the program have expended nearly $21.8 million through grants for research, conservation and stewardship, improved water management, and voluntary water forbearance agreements with willing landowners, businesses, public entities and private organizations in the Walker River Basin.
For more information, please visit the Walker Basin Conservancy website at www.walkerbasin.org.