YERINGTON --EThe federal government's environmental assessment of proposed solutions to saving Walker Lake is drawing fire from local officials.
Some claim there are serious flaws in the draft Walker River Basin environmental impact statement, released in January, and are asking for an independent review of the document.
In order to assess comments and consider changes, the Bureau of Land Management has delayed public release of the statement until July.
The Sierra Front-Northwestern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council will meet on Friday to review the study and make recommendations. The council serves an advisory board to the BLM on ecology-related land use issues.
Lyon County Commission Chairman and Smith Valley resident Phyllis Hunewill said the proposal to seek only the water below the two upstream dams (Topaz and Bridgeport reservoirs) is an attack on the irrigation district's water rights holders.
She also claims the assessment of the economic effects of removing additional water rights from agricultural lands is based on invalid information and would destroy the agricultural economy.
"In my opinion the whole report is a farce. Every time I turn another page it gets more frustrating. There are so many untrue statements. If they do what is proposed, it will absolutely ruin the economy of both valleys," she said. "We believe their conclusions are based on unsound science. This is why we want another entity, such as the National Academy of Sciences, to give us an impartial assessment."
Hunewill also disagrees with information included in the socioeconomic portion of the document that states "There is no farmland 'Prime and Unique' present" within the basin and when the water is removed, the land will change to a higher use, the resultant taxes being a boost to the economy, when taken out of agricultural use.
"Everyone knows we are struggling to bring industry into the Mason Valley. There is plenty of available land right now if someone is interested in developing it. Property is just not moving. How can they say drying up the farmlands will boost our economy? Agricultural is the foundation of these valleys."
Commissioner David Fulstone, a Mason and Smith valleys rancher, agrees with Hunewill.
"It's the first EIS I have ever seen that doesn't address the environment. There were drastic assumptions made in it that are not correct. There are straight-on mistakes. Most of these things have to do with a lack of understanding of how the decree operates the water on the Walker River," he said. "And, until water issues with the Walker River Paiute Tribe are resolved, it is impossible for any federal agency to buy water rights to solve the Walker Lake problem."
On April 2 and 3, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., will host a meeting of national and state elected officials and national environmental and conservation organizations to discuss solutions to saving Walker Lake. Hunewill has contacted Reid's staff, offering him an open invitation to meet with county commissioners to address Walker Lake and other issues.
Walker River Irrigation District Manager Ken Spooner also expressed dismay with the environmental statement and cautioned it could be detrimental to settlement talks taking place in the basin.
"In our view, this document has serious flaws and is less then a complete review of the basin and its resources. It would appear it was not looked at as to what effect proposed solutions could specifically have up stream," Spooner said. "There are issues in the basin, but assumptions that are not borne out by fact or science are a disservice to those issues. With preliminary settlement talks going on, I see this as putting the cart before the horse. It is not a healthy way to reach a practical solution."
Spooner concurred the 900-page document needs some type of impartial review, "by someone with a long-term, arms-length reputation."
The federal government currently has no control over water allocations in the Walker River system. Many see the government's attempts to get the Lahontan cutthroat trout declared a threatened species as part of a ploy to give it the control necessary to put pressure on ranchers to sell their water rights. The plan's detractors see false assumptions leading to desired conclusions in the statement will provide the base the federal agencies need to proceed with procuring additional water.
The draft environmental statement is aimed at settling three issues: saving Walker Lake as a fresh water habitat; restoring the Lahontan cutthroat trout in the river's system; and resolving legal issues with the federal government, Walker River Paiute Tribe and water rights holders.
Under the auspices of the Bureau of Reclamation, the BLM is serving as the coordinator of the project. It contracted with the Desert Research Institute (a division of the University of Nevada system) to draft the statement.
IF YOU GO
What: Sierra Front Northwestern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council
When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday and at 8 a.m. Friday
Where: BLM Field Office in Carson City, 5665 Morgan Mill Road
Information: Mark Struble at 885-6107
ON THE NET