Students Attempt To Save Walker Lake

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Students from a high school government class in Hawthorne marched on the state capital to practice their civic activism and bring awareness to the plight of a dying Nevada lake.

Dying a slow death because of upstream diversions, evaporation and drought, biologists say the lake is rapidly approaching the point where it will no longer support fish because of rising salinity levels.

About 30 students and several teachers from a senior government class at Mineral County High School met Thursday with state officials and a representative for U.S. Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., before walking in front of the Capitol and Legislature building, carrying signs that read, "Save Walker Lake," and "Walker Lake is Great."

"The lake is in a desperate situation. There's been a lot of talk about trying to get something done, but nothing's really happening," said Toby Montoy, a student a leader of a newly formed youth group called the Walker Lake Crusaders.

For years, interest groups representing state and local officials, upstream farmers in Lyon County, the Walker River Paiute Tribe, conservationists, scientists and others have been struggling to reach an equitable water allocation agreement.

Two years ago, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., organized a summit on the lake's demise that led to mediation talks. Negotiations have been underway for about a year, but those participating in the talks are prohibited from talking about them under a confidentiality agreement.

"It's an extremely complex issue. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that something positive will result," Darren Hamrey, the student's government class teacher, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Hamrey, who grew up in Hawthorne, said the class has talked about the sensitive political issues involved in trying to preserve the desert lake, as well as its critical role in the economy of Mineral County.

"Somehow, there has to be a middle ground where the needs of all users and stakeholders are covered," Hamrey said.

Walker Lake is a remnant of ancient Lake Lahontan, which once covered much of the Great Basin. Since the early 1900s, the lake's level has dropped about 140 feet. The lack of a steady flow of fresh water into the lake has increased the concentration of salts and other impurities.

Walker Lake's fishery is important to rural Mineral County's economy, accounting for by some estimates as much as 40 percent of its economic base.