Can a person swim in Walker Lake? Can a person swim int he Dead Sea?

The Dead sea has one tributary, the River Jordan. Its salinity is 35% as it is 430 feet below mean sea level. Constant evaporation of water has rendered this salinity to such a high level. A person will automatically float in the Dead Sea. For the same reason, it is nearly impossible to swim in the Dead Sea because of the resistance of the water. Sadly it is fast disappearing.

The same fate has already claimed the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan which has since 1960 has had its volume depleted. Iran’s Lake Urmia has plummeted to the same levels in a much shorter time since 2000. There are so many large water bodies and land-locked seas that are looking down the barrel, the environmental degradation and devastation that this poses to migratory birds, local fish species, macroscopic underwater life is nigh incomprehensible. As to the question, can you swim in Walker Lake? We will get to that in a bit. Let’s investigate first. Read on for the answer.

The Story Of Vanishing Walker Lake

Walker Lake Down The Years

What remains of the bygone Lake Lahontan dating back to the Pleistocene Age is now Walker Lake. Lake Lahontan spanned mostly Northern Nevada, diversifying into present-day Oregon and California. Pyramid Lake, Honey Lake, etc. are other fragments of the Lake.

Early Native Americans Of The Area

Can A Person Swim In Walker Lake, Nevada

The Agai-Dicutta Numa, translated as ‘trout eaters” were the first inhabitants of the Walker Basin. The Agai-Dicutta Numa, a Northern Paiute Band lay claims that they have occupied the Great Basin region for thousands of years. They settled in extended matrilinear groups within established geographical areas. The bands participated together in food gatherings, ceremonies, rituals, etc. during the inter-geographical seasonal congregations. They didn’t have to figure out if one can you swim in Walker Lake

Small game accounted for most of the natural diet of the Agai-Dicutta Numa; wild jackrabbits, groundhogs, prairie dogs, mud hens, geese and also larger game such as deer, mountain sheep, and antelope. Their diet was supplemented with seeds such as pine nuts, thorn berries,  waigrass, etc. abundant in the desert.

Walker Lake Recreation Then

Settlers first began showing up at Walker Basin around 1850, heeding the call of the Nevada mining boom and soon Hawthorne, a town was born in 1920. It was also a military and munitions base. The residents of Hawthorne spent considerable time in the pursuit of leisure activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, and paddling. Can you swim in Walker Lake was the least of their worries. They had their own quaint gatherings, one such being The Liars boat Race, a lighthearted contest where the participants were confronted with the task of building a boat comprising unconventional materials.

Locals and visitors alike took singular pleasure in fishing pastimes when Walker lake was a flourishing habitat home to a large number of indigenous fish species such as tui chub, Tahoe Sucker, etc. Hawthorne staged The Loon Festival around the 1950s in an attempt to get the loons banding together as well as to monitor the migratory paths of birds.

As TDS levels started soaring, the Lahontan trout disappeared and the scourge wiped out native species. In 2009, sadly, The Loon Festival also breathed it’s last forced by the dearth of the common loons halting at Walker Lake because sustenance was in short supply.

Can A Person Swim In Walker Lake, Nevada
Sunset over Walker Lake

Picture Credits:

Alarm Bells For Walker Lake

Can A Person Swim In Walker Lake, Nevada
The Original Lake Walker

Walker Lake is facing the same perils as the Aral Sea and Lake Urmia but is hardly in the infancy of its shrinkage. This has been perpetuated for some time now.

Walker Basin has been part of the ancestral lands of the Northern Paiute Indians

The lake is located about 75 miles southeast of Reno, Nevada. It is nourished by a single river, the Walker River and has no outlets. Its water is replenished by snowmelt in the Sierra Nevadas but the elephantine portion of that water is swallowed before it can empty into the lake. The water is diverted for irrigation of Alfalfa fields and pasture lands along Bridgeport, Mason, Antelope and Smith valleys.

Since about a century earlier, Walker Lake has since been progressively losing its water, pegged at about 90% as of today. This is coincidental with cattlemen and farmers entrenched their communities in Walker basin seeing the promise of its location. This wilful selfish abdication of the laws of natural resources preservation for self-serving purposes over a relatively long period of time has wrought havoc for the lake. As the inflow of freshwater has been throttled, the proportion of dissolved solids, mainly salt has jumped from 3 grams per liter in the 1880s to 17 grams today. Walker Lake has been transformed into an inland saltwater lake. Now the question, can you swim in Walker Lake takes a different dimension.

In the 1920s, the Walker River Irrigation District, in their incomparable wisdom, erected two dams. Positioned to hoard early winter and spring run-off, the east and west forks of the Walker River were chosen. This was insurance for utilization later in the season when natural flows were unsustainable for agricultural irrigation and needed to be supplemented. In 1935, additionally, the Bureau of Indian Affairs too joined the band-wagon and up came the Weber Dam on the lower section of the Walker River to trap surplus flows, again for irrigation on the Walker River Paiute Tribe’s Reservation.

And so this sordid state of affairs, the diversion of water from the Walker River, has assisted in building a strong agricultural economy all the while contributing to a disastrous consequence. The crucial choking of freshwater inflows to Walker Lake resulted in water levels declining. It had transformed the Lake waters into a lethal stew for zooplankton and fish.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in Walker Lake had shot up alarmingly. Supporting its native fish and wildlife became untenable.

The Environmental Toll

The case of Walker Lake is no different from the plight of other salt lakes being depleted. The sharp escalation of salinity levels wrought devastation among fish and other wildlife. Walker Lake boasted 17 species of fish historically, now down to three. The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, an endemic species was listed as endangered but has been now classified as threatened. It still survives because of the stocking. The eco-system is virtually on the verge of collapse. The introduction of non-native species like the Sacramento perch also died out with the commercially fished carp by 1960. The indigenous Tahoe Sucker also has not been sighted since the mid-1990s. If the fishery is at stake of extermination, will the bird habitat survive? The American white pelican and the migrating common loon are both dependent on Walker Lake and thereby tagged as “sensitive” by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Rare species reliant on the Lake’s fragile eco-system are Snowy Plovers, Long-billed Curlews, White-faced Ibis, and Double-crested Cormorants, now long gone.

BigHorn Sheep
Tai Chub
Lahontan Cutthroat Trout
Sandhill Crane

Walker Lake Conservation Estimation 2013

The Natural Fish And Wildlife Foundation funded The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to identify key indicator species, assess prevailing conditions, and figure out ecological presuppositions as levels vary in the lake whether one can you swim in Walker Lake.

For the evaluation of Walker Lake, three key indicators have been identified:

Invertebrates -inclusive of insects such as midges, and alkali flies, are one of the most crucial ecological indicators of the health of the lake’s ecosystem. Notwithstanding alterations in the salinity of their habitat, it is a prerequisite for them to sustain an unchanging balance of salt. Therefore, to maintain that equilibrium, they need to expend energy which foments stress for the insects as the salinity extent is on the upsurge. Over time, to provide a degree of fluctuating conditions in the lake, tabs can be kept on the numbers of invertebrates. Invertebrates are also a crucial food source for native fish and migratory waterbirds, so as the population of invertebrates plummets, as does the food supply for key species.

Native Fish The cutthroat trout (LCT), sucker, and tui chub are native and once plentiful to Walker Lake. The LCT has been unsighted since 2010. The continual slide in the lake volume has resulted in an upsurge in water temperature as well as salinity. These circumstances decrease the quantity of dissolved water oxygen and lead to trying chances for LCT survival. Around 1982, salinity levels touched 10,000 mg/liter, the Tahoe Sucker has become uncommon in Walker Lake. A significant conservation achievement in the downswing of salinity levels would be the heralding of the arrival of a population that is naturally supporting. Walker Lake’s tui chub community is genetical of a different strain and has robust genetic diversity than other populations of tui chub throughout the Truckee, Walker, and Carson river basins. Suited to both deep and shallow water survival, is the tui chub being a schooling fish. Recently tui chub populations have also seen a decline.

Waterbirds -Waterbirds common to Walker Lake include the American white pelican, double-crested cormorant and a number of waterfowl species. These birds or at least some of them seek large open water bodies in the area that prop common fish food species like LCT, tui chub while others are dependent more on aquatic insects and/or plants. A diversity of fish sizes is essential if many of these waterbirds are to feed effectively. When native fish are incapable to breed or survive, the variation in fish sizes ceases to exist. Over the years, for example, as salinity levels have ballooned, common loons, and western and Clark’s grebes have nosedived alarmingly at Walker Lake since no longer available on the menu for them to eat, the smaller size varieties of tui chub are scarce. Similarly, when insect populations drop due to stress, birds relying on this food source grapple to survive.

Walker River basin

Losses from Walker Lake is greater than the total inflow during most years due to agricultural diversions compounded by evaporation. Evaporative losses with diminished inflows from  Walker River have bloated TDS concentrations in the lake.

The ecologic soundness of Walker Lake is of perturbation for local communities that depend on the fishery for productive and spiritual concerns. Additionally, Walker Lake is the Pacific route stopover point for migrating birds. International treaties are in place that tries to safeguard the integrity and favorable outcomes of these migratory paths.

Humans alter almost all hydrologic landscape components, and these diversions cascade between tributary basins, thus having a cumulative footprint on terminal lakes. The control of flow and storage in reservoirs, wetlands, and streams, and the release of pollutants and nutrients into these systems is the sole preserve of humans.

Walker Basin Restoration Program

Finally paying heed to Walker Lake’s impending doom and instituting remedial procedures, Congress initiated Public law 111-85, The Restoration Program of Walker Basin took birth, administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation tasked with evolving a voluntary water rights acquisition program and fund Walker Basin research. Concurrently, the Walker basin water monitoring program was the responsibility of the US Geological Survey.

The program’s primary focus is to rehabilitate and oversee the upkeep of Walker Lake as well as to nurture and protect the agricultural, habitat and environmental interests of the Basin. Being a desert lake and located as it is, the terminus of the Walker Basin, it services lands both in Nevada as well as California.

The program, to date, has achieved:

Additionally, the program has utilized close to, conservation, stewardship, upgraded water management, and non-binding water forbearance accords with public entities, willing landowners, businesses, and private organizations in the Walker River Basin.

The Hawthorne Army Depot, the chief architect in dumping these ordinances into the southern end of Walker many, many years ago, completed a partial cleanup in 2014.

Earlier, in 1974, clearance action yielded over 6,000 munition pieces and ordinance debris of around 75 tons were removed.

The process is ongoing.

After completion of the removal phase, a remedial investigation will take place to determine what further action is required.

The Big Question

Can a person swim in Walker Lake?

At no point in its history has it been such that swimming in Walker Lake has been an impediment.

True, if remedial action had not been undertaken whereby the Lake is rapidly being reinstated to its former munificence, the River would probably not exist. Now on a positive note, it can be declared in the positive; yes one can swim in Walker Lake.


NFWF, Natural Fish And Wildlife Foundation

History of Walker Lake

The Nature Conservancy

Journal of Hydrology 517 (2014)521-537, Richard G. Niswonger a,⇑ , Kip K. Allander, Anne E. Jeton 

Leave a Reply