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Bathymetry of Walker Lake, West-Central Nevada

April 28, 2007

Walker Lake lies within a topographically closed basin in west-central Nevada and is the terminus of the Walker River. Much of the streamflow in the Walker River is diverted for irrigation, which has contributed to a decline in lake-surface altitude of about 150 feet and an increase in dissolved solids from 2,500 to 16,000 milligrams per liter in Walker Lake since 1882. The increase in salinity threatens the fresh-water ecosystem and survival of the Lahontan cutthroat trout, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Accurately determining the bathymetry and relations between lake-surface altitude, surface area, and storage volume are part of a study to improve the water budget for Walker Lake. This report describes the updated bathymetry of Walker Lake, a comparison of results from this study and a study by Rush in 1970, and an estimate of the 1882 lake-surface altitude.

Bathymetry was measured using a single-beam echosounder coupled to a differentially-corrected global positioning system. Lake depth was subtracted from the lake-surface altitude to calculate the altitude of the lake bottom. A Lidar (light detection and ranging) survey and high resolution aerial imagery were used to create digital elevation models around Walker Lake. The altitude of the lake bottom and digital elevation models were merged together to create a single map showing land-surface altitude contours delineating areas that are currently or that were submerged by Walker Lake. Surface area and storage volume for lake-surface altitudes of 3,851.5-4,120 feet were calculated with 3-D surface-analysis software.

Walker Lake is oval shaped with a north-south trending long axis. On June 28, 2005, the lake-surface altitude was 3,935.6 feet, maximum depth was 86.3 feet, and the surface area was 32,190 acres. The minimum altitude of the lake bottom from discrete point depths is 3,849.3 feet near the center of Walker Lake. The lake bottom is remarkably smooth except for mounds near the shore and river mouth that could be boulders, tree stumps, logs, or other submerged objects.

The echosounder detected what appeared to be mounds in the deepest parts of Walker Lake, miles from the shore and river mouth. However, side-scan sonar and divers did not confirm the presence of mounds. Anomalies occur in two northwest trending groups in northern and southern Walker Lake. It is hypothesized that some anomalies indicate spring discharge along faults based on tufa-like rocks that were observed and the northwest trend parallel to and in proximity of mapped faults. Also, evaporation measured from Walker Lake is about 50 percent more than the previous estimate, indicating more water is flowing into the lake from sources other than the Walker River. Additional studies need to be done to determine what the anomalies are and whether they are related to the hydrology of Walker Lake.

Most differences in surface area and storage volume between this study and a study by Rush in 1970 were less than 1 percent. The largest differences occur at lake-surface altitudes less than 3,916 feet. In general, relations between lake-surface altitude, surface area, and storage volume from Rush's study and this study are nearly identical throughout most of the range in lake-surface altitude.

The lake-surface altitude in 1882 was estimated to be between 4,080 feet and 4,086 feet with a probable altitude of 4,082 feet. This estimate compares well with two previous estimates of 4,083 feet and 4,086 feet. Researchers believe the historic highstand of Walker Lake occurred in 1868 and estimated the highstand was between 4,089 feet and 4,108 feet. By 1882, Mason Valley was predominantly agricultural. The 7-26 feet decline in lake-surface altitude between 1868 and 1882 could partially be due to irrigation diversions during this time.

Publication Year 2007
Title Bathymetry of Walker Lake, West-Central Nevada
DOI 10.3133/sir20075012
Authors Thomas J. Lopes, J. LaRue Smith
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2007-5012
Index ID sir20075012
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Nevada Water Science Center