Draining Swan Lake not easy or cheap

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LEMMON VALLEY, Nev. (KOLO) Last winter, Lemmon Valley residents saw Swan Lake rise to historic levels, flooding some homes, threatening many others. Now there's worry about more flooding.

A glance at Lemmon Valley will immediately show you the source of concern. There's still a lot of water and it would only take a series of a few storms to start causing problems again.

It may not look like it, but summer evaporation did drop the lake level by about 2 and a half feet, but....

"We got a little over three-quarters of an inch of rain in November and the lake responded with a five-and-a-half-inch rise," says Assistant County Manager Dave Solero.

In fact, some homes on the west side of the lake are already threatened.

That's why the county is building another berm and asking for funding for more artificial barriers to protect homes on the south end of Pompe Way, and why officials like Solero will be watching weather forecasts in the months ahead.

It's also why some have been asking why the county hasn't done more, why it hasn't sent Swan Lake's waters elsewhere.

We've heard various suggestions, including pumping the lake.

"There's a couple of different ways you could do it," says Solero. "You could pump it through Hungry Valley and Spanish Springs and it would eventually end up in Pyramid Lake or you could pump it in the other direction into Silver Lake and then White Lake and then into California through Long Valley Creek. Those are the options you've got."

Setting aside funding, engineering and legal challenges, both options would impact more residents than those threatened in Lemmon Valley.

Then there was the idea, heard just last week from a viewer, of putting the water into tanker trucks and hauling it out to, say, Winnemucca Lake.

Solero's done the math on that as well, though using a shorter trip to any destination outside the basin, calculations of using a fleet of trucks around the clock.

"Twenty four hours a day trucking that all day long it would take two and a half years to lower the lake by a foot."

The math isn't any better for using a number of evaporators to draw the lake down.

He hasn't priced any of these potential options yet, but pipelines, trucks and evaporators won't be practical, at least economically.

"We're really good as engineers. Given an unlimited budget we can do just about anything. We don't have an unlimited budget. In fact we have no budget."

There is, we should say, nothing unique about Swan Lake. The Nevada landscape is dotted with closed basins, playas with heavy clay soils that hold water quite well in wet years, creating lakes with no outlet.

"Surface water and ground water flows to the lowest point in the basin and the only way for it to get out is through evaporation," says Desert Research Institute hydrologist Dr. Greg Pohll. "So when you have a significant amount of water in the lake it can take years for it to ultimately recede."

So, in the short term at least, local governments and residents will be living with a lake and whatever problems or threats it might pose.

Click here for more stories about Swan Lake.