Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Old Postcard Wednesday--Walker Lake, Hawthorne, Nevada

Judging by images you can view at and the Nevada Sierra Club's Walker Lake site the above is an example of a postcard not doing justice to its subject! As a native Nevadan I have appreciated this marvel on a few occasions, but with Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake so close to Reno where I grew up there was little inclination to spend time at Walker Lake. It blew my mind back then, and still does, to think that Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake were once a part of the same massive prehistoric lake, pleistocene Lake Lahontan. In the map below that shows the area covered by Lake Lahontan, Pyramid Lake is on the left near Reno. Walker Lake is at the bottom of the map, about 100 miles from Pyramid Lake.

Just look at the extent of that ancient lake's shoreline!
Lake Lahontan was a large endorheic Pleistocene lake of modern northwestern Nevada that extended into northeastern California and southern Oregon. The area of the former lake is a large portion of the Great Basin that borders the Sacramento River watershed to the west.

At its peak approximately 12,700 years ago (during a period known as the "Sehoo Highstand"), the lake had a surface area of over 8,500 square miles (22,000 km2), with its largest component centered at the location of the present Carson Sink. The depth of the lake was approximately 900 feet (270 m) at present day Pyramid Lake, and 500 feet (150 m) at the Black Rock Desert. Lake Lahontan, during this most recent glacial period, would have been one of the largest lakes in North America.

Climate change around the end of the Pleistocene epoch led to a gradual desiccation of ancient Lake Lahontan. The lake had largely disappeared in its extended form by approximately 9,000 years ago. As the surface elevation dropped, the lake broke up into series of smaller lakes, most of which rapidly dried up leaving only a playa. These playas include the Black Rock Desert, the Carson Sink and the Humboldt Sink. The only modern day remnants existing as true lakes are Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake. Winnemucca Lake has been dry since the 1930s and Honey Lake periodically desiccates. The ancient shoreline is evidenced by tufa formations throughout the area. . . [Highlighting added. Continue reading at source: Wikipedia]

You would think... hope ...since Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake are the only true lakes still in existence from ancient Lake Lahontan, that they would be protected beyond measure to ensure their survival. Such is not the case with Walker Lake.

The passionate people behind have an excellent video that I urge you to view HERE for more about the crisis situation, while viewing some gorgeous footage of the sparkling gem that they are trying desperately to save. (I would embed here for you but that function is not available.) I was sufficiently stirred to click on the "donate" tab on the page "to support efforts to save Walker Lake as a fresh-water fishery, which is home to threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout and thousands of migratory birds."

From the mission statement of the Walker Lake Working Group at
In America's past, water seemed abundant and nature forgiving. But our water policies did not balance the diversity of human and natural water needs. Intensive economic uses became the dominant forces in managing water. Other concerns - and ecosystems - were ignored.

Caught in the blueprint is Walker Lake. It has much in common with its fellow ancient Lake Lahontan survivor, Pyramid Lake: a high evaporation rate, meager rainfall regime, slightly saline waters and water diversions from its river source.

The task of the Walker Lake Working Group is to change the blueprint - to build public support for developing a long-term solution to protect the lake without jeopardizing the upstream community. The working group seeks to establish a minimum lake level and flows to maintain a stocked fishery. Saving the lake does not require stopping all Walker River water diversions. Only human intervention, primarily through the acquisition of water rights, can save the lake's ecosystem from extinction. . .

The Nevada Chapter of The Sierra Club has a site for Walker Lake, titled
Walker Lake: Nevada's International Treasure that is a great one-page briefing well worth reading for background, insight, and encouragement. Here are portions (highlighting added):
Walker Lake is a familiar sight to travelers on Highway 95 between Reno and Las Vegas.  Its blue desert waters start on the east slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California, flow through farming communities at Bridgeport and Antelope Valley and then through Smith and Mason Valleys in Nevada. From Wabuska, the joined East and West Forks flow through the Walker River Paiute Reservation and then into Walker Lake, just north of Hawthorne, Nevada.  The best-kept secret of Walker Lake is that it is one of only six freshwater terminal lakes in the world.
Walker Lake is famous for its Lahontan cutthroat trout fishery.  Recently, the original strain of lake cutthroats, believed to be extinct, was found surviving in a small creek in northeastern Nevada. These trout which grew to over 40 pounds were re-introduced to Walker Lake in hopes that they will regain their great size. Less well-known is its support of thousands of migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, including biannual visits of up to 1400 common loons. Walker Lake recreational uses are the mainstay of the economy of small rural Mineral County. 

Walker Lake has been seriously impacted by over a century of upriver agricultural diversions. It has lost over three fourths of its volume. The Lake level has fallen by 140 feet. Salt levels have increased to a point which now threaten the survival of the trout fishery and may bring about the collapse of the entire freshwater dependent lake ecosystem. Walker Lake has survived droughts and global climatic changes since the Pleistocene, but its fragile ecosystem cannot outlive upriver diversions accompanied by serious droughts. Walker Lake has no water rights and the River is overappropriated by 140%. Except for a little water from a few creeks and springs on the slopes of Mt. Grant, its only freshwater comes from the river during floods, during high flows when all agricultural rights are satisfied, or at times when Walker River flows cannot be totally diverted. . .

Efforts to secure freshwater for Walker Lake began two decades ago. After the 1980's drought, the State was successful in obtaining the rights to some floodwaters for Walker Lake. . .

Senator Harry Reid's interest in Walker Lake resulted in federal appropriations for Lake and river basin studies, a report by the Office of Technology Assessment, and the initiation of a three-pronged environmental impact analysis by the Bureau of Land Management of acquiring water for Walker Lake, settling Indian claims on additional Walker River water, and recovering Lahontan cutthroat trout in the basin. . .

I suppose you could call this a Good News/Bad News kind of post, to wit: Walker Lake is a beautiful and important place on the Earth that has survived since the Pleistocene era/It may not survive to the mid-21st Century without commitment and action to save it.

Because the situation is indeed dire I am going to end this post with a sorrowful anthem that really touched me, while hoping — believing, really — that it is not too late for Walker Lake. Please help in any way you can if you are stirred to do so.

from youtube introduction: Walker Lake ... has survived for over 13,000 years, 
but now it's dying. Dave Red Boy Schildt wrote a song to give the lake a voice.

Note: I wanted to know more about Dave Red Boy Schildt, and found that he is a bull rider,
cowboy singer, and a poet who just happens to have a blog! It is HERE.

Note: After reading some comments following publication of this post I realize there is an interest in the Native American tribes in the area. Here are two excellent websites:


Walker Lake

Location     Mineral County, Nevada, USA
Coordinates     38°41′32″N 118°44′10″WCoordinates: 38°41′32″N 118°44′10″W
Primary inflows     Walker River
Primary outflows     evaporation
Catchment area     Walker River Basin
Basin countries     United States
Max. length     18 mi (29 km)
Max. width     7 mi (11 km)
Surface area     130 km²
Max. depth     500 ft (150 m)

   Walker Lake satellite view and stats via Wikipedia



Hattie said...

I've got to talk to my sister about Walker Lake. She knows Nevada well. The water policies of the West are appalling! When I was in Eastern Oregon and Idaho I was appalled at the way people were wasting this precious resource.

goatman said...

Lakes will come and go -- as you document -- and we seem to be entering a geologic period (perhaps man-influenced) of inland dryness and ocean ingression, due to warming.

I would bet the exposed fossil record would be worth a look. We have driven through this area once on the way to San. Fran. from Missouri and all I remember is . . . WOW, so much space.

Nice blog

mythopolis said...

It is certainly a beautiful lake. I hope it does not disappear. Thanks for this very informing post!

francessa said...

Lydia, this lake is a treasure indeed. I do hope it can and will be saved!

Rob-bear said...

Lydia: you attach such wonderfully interesting stories to your postcards. Thanks for this latest one.
I hope people will do something to preserve Walker Lake. Globally, it seems we are losing a lot of water — fresh water — and may be doomed as a result.

Owen said...

Sounds like another sad story of man and his dysfunctional relationship with mother nature... Will we wake up before it's too late ? I wonder.

I guess Walker lake must be not too distant from the Nevada Test Site ? Another evil memory from out that way. And the native Americans who lived there... where have they gone ?

Thanks for this in depth essay on Walker Lake... good song too...

Lydia said...

Hattie~ I think you are referring to your recent trip to Idaho and Eastern Oregon...therefore, your view is fresh, and, therefore, it is depressing. I had a college English professor at UNR who used to go off on (legitimate) tirades that there were approximately 7,000 toilets being flushed daily by tourists in downtown Reno casino/hotels (the number was/is probably much was just his ballpark number). Precious water. It is a perplexing problem...

goatman~ I have no doubt that this particular geologic period of warming is man-influenced, but realize there have been swings of climate going back eons. Just this evening I watched the excellent PBS special titled The Journey of Man that discusses how climate affected the populating of the world by the human race. Fascinating.
You mentioned the fossil record in the ancient Lake Lahontan area. I did not write about the amazing fossil sloth footprints, etc. There is so much to study!

mythopolis~ My pleasure. Makes you just want to hit the road and go discover places like this, doesn't it? (At least that is the effect it has on me.)

francessa~ Oh, I hope so. As mentioned in my comment above, wouldn't it be fun to take a road trip around that area, to see ancient lake beds, some ghost towns?

Rob-bear~ Thank you for your kind comment. I appreciate your interest in Walker Lake. Perhaps Bear will work on some rain dances to send forth to the wild places that need fresh water!

Owen~ Dysfunctional relationship is a great description. That poor area on the earth is so fragile, as, as you mentioned, endured the Nevada Test Site and its aftermath.
So pleased you enjoyed this post. I agree about the song. As noted on his blog, the singer is from the Blackfoot tribe and not Paiute, which is the main tribe in Nevada. The Paiute continue to live on the lands, and are prominent around Pyramid Lake and the Walker River areas. I went to school with quite a few Paiute kids in middle and high school.
See The Official Walker River Paiute Tribe here. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe website is here.
***(Thanks for mentioning this, as I will now add these two websites at the end of the post.)

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

OK so you know i'm a big fan of OPW - and i thought this week's postcard was a classic example - great image, great facts and a poigniant point about man's detrimonious effect on the environment (woah, not even had a cup of coffee yet this morning and already using long words!)

Dave "Red Boy" Schildt looks like a character - you definately need a good blues or country nickname don't you? I'm still working on mine :)

Muhammad Israr said...

wow..i never know one can write such wonderful stories about a postcard :)
yes the problem with us humans is that we do not care about our resources until we lost them forever... coal, gas, petroleum, water, name it... i hope the walter lake people sensitize the general public on the deteriorating situation of the lake...hope it is saved...for the sake of history as well as its aesthetics...:)

Lydia said...

Muhammad Israr~ Many thanks for reading the long post and commenting. :)
You wrote: hope it is saved...for the sake of history as well as its aesthetics.... That speaks perfectly to the feeling I had when I saw the satellite image of Walker Lake. I thought: This Lake Belongs to Everyone on the Earth.

Lydia said...

Pixies! I did not intend to skip my reply to your comment...sorry! Thank you for your kind comments about OPW; as I have said before it is not a real OPW without your presence here.
Yes, he does have a good stage name. You never know with a stage name. I would not have guessed that a name like Prince Poppycock would be much... :)

Truckee River Fisherman said...

i total agree with all of your points, i feel this is a travesty. im a very avid angler, and i hate to see what has happened to this lake. however, i needed to correct you. Walker lake is lost. the effort is not to save it, but now to bring it back from the dead ( which will almost surely be impossible, for several reasons). No trout have been planted now in over 5 years, and according to my informants at NDOW, there are no Trout left, TDS are no to high. and the lake continues to drop. Pelicans no longer frequent the lake, they have abandon it. Its unlikely anything will revive the lake, barring a series of incredible winters ( im talking 150% 10yrs in a row) even then it would only be temporary. even if efforts to secure water continue, it will be a slow, arduous fight. it will take close to obtain 40% of the water rights below 100% ( meaning 40% reaches the lake, since water is currently 140% used) to stabilize the lake. it will most likely be decades, or longer, before this lake can recover barring some kind of miracle. but im on your side, and will keep up the fight. i think at this point, efforts are better spent enhancing treasures we still do have, like pyramid lake.

Lydia said...

Truckee River Fisherman ~ Many thanks for your comment of support for Walker Lake. Your information greatly adds to this post, keeping the concern current and vital. I will continue to keep hope, while feeling so very sad.....



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