The Walker River is the main source of inflow to Walker Lake, a closed-basin lake in west-central Nevada. The only outflow from Walker Lake is evaporation from the lake surface. Between 1882 and 2008, upstream agricultural diversions resulted in a lake-level decline of more than 150 feet and storage loss of 7,400,000 acre-feet. Evaporative concentration increased dissolved solids from 2,500 to 17,000 milligrams per liter. The increase in salinity threatens the survival of the Lahontan cutthroat trout, a native species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. This report describes streamflow in the Walker River basin and an updated water budget of Walker Lake with emphasis on the lower Walker River basin downstream from Wabuska, Nevada. Water budgets are based on average annual flows for a 30-year period (1971-2000).
Total surface-water inflow to the upper Walker River basin upstream from Wabuska was estimated to be 387,000 acre-feet per year (acre-ft/yr). About 223,000 acre-ft/yr (58 percent) is from the West Fork of the Walker River; 145,000 acre-ft/yr (37 percent) is from the East Fork of the Walker River; 17,000 acre-ft/yr (4 percent) is from the Sweetwater Range; and 2,000 acre-ft/yr (less than 1 percent) is from the Bodie Mountains, Pine Grove Hills, and western Wassuk Range. Outflow from the upper Walker River basin is 138,000 acre-ft/yr at Wabuska. About 249,000 acre-ft/yr (64 percent) of inflow is diverted for irrigation, transpired by riparian vegetation, evaporates from lakes and reservoirs, and recharges alluvial aquifers.
Stream losses in Antelope, Smith, and Bridgeport Valleys are due to evaporation from reservoirs and agricultural diversions with negligible stream infiltration or riparian evapotranspiration. Diversion rates in Antelope and Smith Valleys were estimated to be 3.0 feet per year (ft/yr) in each valley. Irrigated fields receive an additional 0.8 ft of precipitation, groundwater pumpage, or both for a total applied-water rate of 3.8 ft/yr. The average corrected total evapotranspiration rate for alfalfa is 3.2 ft/yr so about 0.6 ft/yr (15 percent) flushes salts from the soil. The diversion rate in Bridgeport Valley was estimated to be 1.1 ft/yr and precipitation is 1.3 ft/yr. The total applied-water rate of 2.4 ft/yr is used to irrigate pasture grass.
The total applied water rate in the East Fork of the Walker River and Mason Valley was estimated to be 4.8 ft/yr in each valley. The higher rate likely is due to appreciable infiltration, riparian evapotranspiration, or both. Assuming a diversion rate of 3.0 ft/yr, stream loss due to infiltration and riparian evapotranspiration is about 3,000 acre-ft/yr along the East Fork of the Walker River and 14,000 acre-ft/yr in Mason Valley.
In the lower Walker River basin, overall and groundwater budgets were calculated for Wabuska to Schurz, Nev., and Schurz to Walker Lake. An overall water budget was calculated for the combined reaches. Imbalances in the water budgets range from 1 to 7 percent, which are insignificant statistically, so the water budgets balance. Total inflow to the Wabuska-Walker Lake reach from the river and others sources is 140,000 acre-ft/yr. Stream and subsurface discharge into the northern end of Walker Lake totals 110,000 acre-ft/yr. About 30,000 acre-ft/yr is lost on the Walker River Indian Reservation from agricultural evapotranspiration, evapotranspiration by native and invasive vegetation, domestic pumpage, and subsurface outflow from the basin through Double Spring and the Wabuska lineament.
Alfalfa fields in the upper Walker River basin are lush and have an average corrected total evapotranspiration rate of 3.2 ft/yr. Alfalfa fields on the Walker River Indian Reservation are not as lush and have a total corrected evapotranspiration rate of 1.6-2.1 ft/yr, which partly could be due to alkaline soils that were submerged by Pleistocene Lake Lahontan. The total applied-water rate is 7.0 ft/yr, almost twice the
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Water Budgets of the Walker River Basin and Walker Lake, California and Nevada