Environmentalists decry proposed regs for Walker Lake
RENO, Nev. (AP) – New water quality standards being considered for Walker Lake are meaningless unless they include limits on dissolved solids, environmentalists claim.
State lawmakers earlier this year rejected water quality standards for the endangered desert lake near Hawthorne because upstream farmers feared limits on dissolved solids could threaten agricultural water supplies.
The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection is proposing a new set of standards that excludes the most controversial issue affecting the lake.
”It won’t help the lake at all to do that,” said Louis Thompson, chairman of the conservationist Walker Lake Working Group. ”It is not helpful at all in terms of maintaining the fishery and the ecosystem there.”
NDEP officials counter that by removing dissolved solids from proposed standards, the state can make incremental steps toward complying with the federal Clean Water Act.
Other, less controversial water quality rules can be put in place while the thorny issue of dissolved solids can be tackled at another time, said Randy Pahl, supervisor of NDEP’s water quality branch.
”Those other standards are necessary as well,” Pahl said. ”We’re doing the pieces that we can. We’ve got to get something going.”
Walker Lake has dropped more than 130 feet below levels in the early 1900s, largely due to upstream diversions of Walker River water for agriculture.
Runoff from farmers’ fields contains dissolved salts and other solids that are deposited in the lake. The problem is compounded during drought, when solids are concentrated into less and less water.
At the end of the last major drought in 1995, minerals and salts in Walker Lake were measured at 14,000 parts per million, levels that threatened to exterminate the lake’s fish. This summer biologists warned the lake’s fishery, including the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, is again in danger.
Last February, the Nevada Environmental Commission approved water quality standards for Walker Lake that established a maximum limit of total dissolved solids at 12,000 ppm.
Those regulations were overturned in April by the Nevada Legislative Commission amid concern the limit on solids couldn’t be reached without diverting much more water into Walker Lake, putting the area’s important agricultural industry at risk.
”Agriculture is the only industry we have left in Yerington and the Smith Valley, so we’re kind of guarding it,” Assemblyman Joe Dini, D-Yerington, said at the time.
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