Walker Basin Project

Research Projects Phase II: 2010-2012

Walker Basin Project 2010 Final Report

Walker Basin Project 2013
Phase II Final Report


Research Project Descriptions: 2010-2012

Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Potential Water Right Acquisitions in the Walker River Basin using a Decision Support Tool

UNR: D. Boyle
DRI: T. Minor, C. Garner, G. Pohll, A. Knust, R. Carroll

Previous Work:

In support of H.R. 2419 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act, 2006, Section 208, DRI and University of Nevada faculty developed, tested, and implemented a computer-based Decision Support Tool (DST) in support of the proposed water right acquisitions in the Walker River basin (see figure 1).  As shown in Figures 2-4, the newly developed DST captures the spatial and temporal complexity of important relationships among climate, evapotranspiration, river flows, groundwater-surface water exchange along the river, irrigation practices, groundwater pumping, and all known existing water rights (e.g., decree, storage, and flood) in the Walker River system above the USGS Wabuska surface water station (i.e., Mason Valley, Smith Valley, and all contributing headwater areas).  The DST was built based on information gained from other hydrologic modeling studies and incorporates state of the art software and high resolution spatial products to enhance the accuracy to which one can predict hydrologic responses throughout the Walker River system.  The DST can now be used to evaluate many different water right acquisition options in terms of delivering the maximum amount of water to Walker Lake (based on flow increases at Wabuska) and provides the best possible opportunities for meaningful research to accomplish the goals specified in the University of Nevada’s Desert Terminal Lakes Program (e.g., evaluate different water-delivery scenarios, determine the consequences of purchasing junior vs. senior water rights, investigate the impacts of climate change, etc.).

Proposed New Work:

The development of the new DST of the Walker River Basin represents a major step forward in understanding the complex hydrologic relationships within the real system.   The DST allows users to track water from the headwaters where streamflow originates, through the complicated deliveries and returns in the heavily irrigated Smith and Mason Valleys, to the USGS surface water station at Wabuska.  The DST, however, does not currently simulate deliveries from the USGS surface water station at Wabuska to Walker Lake; a complex reach with significant channel losses and storage capabilities at Weber Reservoir.  A decision was made early in the development of the DST to limit the extent of the tool to the area upstream of Wabuska since the USGS are developing a complex computer-based model of the groundwater and surface water system for the area directly surrounding Walker Lake that would include the reach from Wabuska to Walker Lake.  However, it appears that the USGS model is still several years away from completion and there is a serious need to include this reach in the new DST to support the proposed water right acquisitions in the Walker River basin.  As a result, we propose to extend the newly completed DST to include the river system (e.g., stream flow routing and losses, diversions and returns, etc.) and Weber Reservoir from the USGS surface water station at Wabuska to Walker Lake.

Determining the Response of Walker River Aquatic Life to Incremental Changes in River Management and Use

DRI: Don Sada
UNR: Sudeep Chandra

Project Summary:

Ecological studies in the Walker River during 2007 and 2008 occurred during drought conditions and found that aquatic communities are strongly influenced by discharge, water temperature, substrate composition, and nutrients. The primary objective of work proposed for 2010 - 2013 (the project is proposed to begin with field work during spring, summer, and autumn of 2010 - 2013, with the final report being completed by the end of 2013) is to a) expand upon previous studies and understand differences in river environments and aquatic communities under precipitation regimes from drought to wet years and b) develop a model that predicts the distribution of game fishes as a result of variations in temperature under different flow scenarios in the river. This information is needed to determine how river biota (periphyton, invertebrates and fishes) and environment vary under different runoff conditions, which is needed to more accurately quantify biological and environmental differences between healthy and degraded river ecosystems, demonstrate how aquatic life changes in response to river management, and provide quantitative information that can be integrated into the Decision Tool assessing the efficacy of different water acquisitions and management on the health of Walker Lake and Walker River. This work will be completed through collaboration between DRI and UNR scientists who will prepare plans outlining studies, schedules, and deliverables for each scientist. This work will compliment U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs by providing high temporal and spatial resolution ecological information to assess the efficacy of restoration programs.

Use of Alternative Agriculture and Irrigation Scheduling Technology For Water Conservation in the Walker Basin

UNR: J. Davison, W.W. Miller, S. Tyler, E. Leger
DRI: J. Arnone, R. Jasoni
Contact PI: W.W. Miller

Previous Research
The demand for limited surface water in arid regions of the western United States and elsewhere throughout the world often exceeds resource availability, thus forcing decisions for prioritized water allocation. The search for salvageable water commonly focuses on irrigated agriculture because evapotranspiration (ET) is a major consumer. Effective agricultural water reallocation in the Walker Basin and elsewhere must be predicated in part on the ability to use less water in the production process while maintaining a sustainable agricultural economy, and/or the ability to effectively restore land areas coming out of production.

Preliminary data from a pilot study indicate: (a) that there is indeed a potential for water savings via the use of alternative crop species that produce high yields at lower water use; (b) that production responses of some species depend on the amount of irrigation water applied; (c) even small amounts of water have a significant impact on the establishment of revegetation species; and (d) the use of DTS for temperature sensing shows promise as a new method for soil moisture measurement. Thus, data to date demonstrate the potential for water conservation and provide a solid basis for the study proposed herein. We expect that ET and water use efficiency (WUE) results from our pilot project screening will be applicable throughout the Basin, particularly when compared to similar long-term data for alfalfa production.

Proposed New Research
Our study objectives are:

(1) to further quantify, under a range of irrigation scenarios, the above ground biomass and grain yields of candidate species chosen for their inherent and ecological suitability for use in arid environments;

(2) implement new studies on seeding plants directly into existing alfalfa fields for purposes of land revegetation;

(3) to quantify actual ET and soil moisture levels during growth for selected high yield crops using two novel technological methods to determine inter-annual crop WUEs as a function of irrigation level; and

(4) to establish empirical relationships between yield, ET, WUE, soil moisture content and irrigation treatment that will elucidate regional ecological mechanisms driving these parameters and thus enable development of numerical models that will aid agronomists in optimizing crop selection, water delivery and irrigation scheduling.

When interfaced with economic and stream and lake models, the amount of water conservation and monetary gains of producers can be optimized while downstream negative consequences on riparian and littoral ecosystems can be mitigated. In addition to cultivation of our existing fields, we will be implementing a second round of plantings (Phase II plots) that will involve seeding restoration species directly into an existing alfalfa stand, testing various levels of competition removal from existing alfalfa plants. We will further quantify crop ET and WUE for selected varieties using static chamber measurements and soil moisture using DTS cables.  Coalesced data will be used to develop a novel means of irrigation scheduling for water conservation.

Economic Development Efforts Targeted Towards the Nevada Sub-Regions within the Walker Basin

UNR: Dick Bartholet, Tom Harris

Phase 2 proposal involves a four-year economic development support effort. 

  • Economic Development Technical Support: Focus on economic development that would enhance the transition to alternative crops (All years)
  • Develop Mission Statement, Guidelines and Procedures for Resource Pool (Year one only)
  • Establish a "foundation" for broad-based economic development efforts within the Walker Basin (Year one only)
  • Economic Development Support through Training and One-on-One Business Counseling (All years)

While a specific objective of this proposal is to support those economic development efforts that can enhance the Walker Basin project, business support services will be offered to all individuals and businesses that seek assistance.  Much of the training and all of the business counseling services will be provided at no cost to clients.  In those instances where there is a cost element, costs can be waived for those whose business concepts will contribute to the Walker Basin project objectives.

Project Coordination, Communication and Outreach

UNR: Mike Collopy, Winnie Dowling

DRI: Jim Thomas, Judith Lancaster

Project Summary:

This project provides administrative oversight, programmatic coordination, and support for scientist outreach and coordination activities for the overall project.  All DRI budgets will be included as a subagreement within this task.

Primary Objectives:

Co-PIs for this project will provide support for all projects on this project. The PIs responsibilities include:

  1. Assure effective communication between DRI and UNR, and with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
  2. Interface with project PIs so that as projects progress and information will be shared with other University of Nevada System Desert Terminal Lake participants such as Senator Reid’s staff, Stakeholder groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. 
  3. Assure that the program stays on schedule and help resolve significant internal issues that may arise.
  4. Coordinate all science and modeling aspects of the project, making sure that that all projects are working collaboratively so that the research from the different projects meet the other projects’ needs.
  5. Ensure that quarterly progress meetings and annual reports are completed on time, and that the overall project is completed on time and within budget.

National Fish and Wildlife Walker Basin Restoration Program

Contacts: Joy Giffin, NFWF’s Nevada-based Assistant Program Director, (775) 673-7481 or joy.giffin@nfwf.org; David Yardas, Interim Program Director, (202) 595-2472 or david.yardas@nfwf.org.

Demonstration Water Leasing Program

NFWF continues to work on finalizing the terms of an agreement for the three year water leasing demonstration program with the Walker River Irrigation District (WRID). Under PL 111-85 it will be up to the District to develop, administer, and manage the leasing program, but NFWF must ensure that the terms of the agreement allow for the proper accounting of and payment for leased water in accordance with federal requirements. NFWF remains hopeful that a final grant agreement can still be concluded in time for onset of the District’s water lease program this year.

Conservation and Stewardship

A portion of the $10 million Conservation and Stewardship Fund will be reserved to support soil conservation and re-vegetation efforts on retired lands associated with the water rights acquisition program. Additional funds will be distributed through challenge grants and directed funding. NFWF plans to provide directed funds to the Mason Valley Wildlife Management Area (MVWMA) to help complete the final phase of an ongoing effort to discharge water from the north end of the property back instream, along with other water and land practices associated with conserving water on the MVWMA. Additional directed funds are proposed for an Alternative/Specialty Crop Marketing and Enhancement demonstration Program proposed by the Nevada Division of Conservation Districts.

Additional Research

Public Law 111-85 provides additional research funds for the University of Nevada, Reno and DRI. The grant agreement between NFWF and UNR-DRI has been finalized. The Phase II research components include: modeling surface-groundwater interactions associated with the water acquisition program, research on alternative agricultural and restoration of retired land integrated in part with research on economic opportunities including identifying markets for less water intensive crops, and ecological monitoring of the riverine habitat. In June an initial round of research coordination meetings were held between NFWF, DRI, UNR and additional entities involved in various components of the Walker Basin. The intent of these meetings is to coordinate efforts among the many entities and to discuss how the research can be integrated with the various components of the Walker Basin Restoration Program.

Meetings and Advisory Groups

NFWF convened the third meeting of the Walker Water Modeling Committee in June 2010. The committee includes representation from local, state, federal, and tribal entities involved in the technical aspects of water management in the Basin. The group is beginning to discuss the current monitoring efforts in the Walker River system and the additional monitoring needs that will be required to track additional water associated with the water acquisition and leasing program.

The first Walker Basin Advisory Council meeting was planned for late July 2010. The Advisory Council will focus initially on land stewardship activities associated with lands no longer irrigated as a direct result of the water rights acquisition program, and on developing/promoting agricultural practices that can conserve water for instream use while keeping the associated lands in production. The Advisory Council will be composed of private landowners as well as local, state, and federal entities with expertise in land stewardship practices.