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Lahontan Reservoir’s Low Water Level Impacts Farmers, Wildlife And Recreationists

A house-like structure on concrete stilts is propped out of a very small amount of water. There are many rings on the structure and a nearby sandy beach, which shows how high the water has been in the past. There is smoke in the air from California fires.
Courtesy of Nevada State Parks
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The intake tower at Lahontan Reservoir, Nev., on Aug. 24, 2021. Smoke is filling the air from wildfires burning in California.

Drought has drastically impacted water levels at the Lahontan State Recreation Area, and the effects are being felt by farmers, wildlife and recreationists.

The water level at Lahontan State Recreation Area is about 6,000 acre-feet, according to Lahontan Park Supervisor Tony Beauregard. That’s about 6,000 football fields covered with one foot of water. The reservoir has the capacity to hold 300,000 acre-feet of water, but the water level is roughly 2% of what it can hold.

The main source of water comes from the Carson River, which has received a below-average amount of snowpack melt. Farmers in Fallon use the water, but irrigation came to a stop a few weeks ago, according to Beauregard.

“Typically, they would be able to water crops into like the first of October, so they’re losing about two months’ worth of water,” Beauregard said.

Beauregard also said that the low water level is causing stress on fish and migratory birds. He said the Nevada Department of Wildlife is considering adding what is essentially a bubbler in the reservoir, which will oxygenate the water for the fish.

This isn’t the first time the reservoir has lost this much water.

“I think it happened sooner this year than in the past years. It was drier and hotter; the water kind of went away faster than it has the last couple of times it’s dried up like this. You know, this is the second time it’s happened in about eight years,” Beauregard said.

The boat launch areas at Silver Springs and Lahontan Dam are closed. Boating in the reservoir isn’t advised, and swimming is not possible at the Silver Springs side of the park because it is mostly mud.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America focusing on community reporting and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local community issues are her passion, including the affordable housing crisis, homelessness, a lack of access to healthcare, protests and challenges facing vulnerable communities in northern Nevada.
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