Partnership Restores Flows to Little Washoe Lake

Little Washoe Lake - Washoe City, NV (Washoe County)

Photo Credit: Courtesy of NDOW

by Nevada Department of Wildlife

Washoe County, NV- Little Washoe Lake water levels are now recovering after the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) worked with partners to repair a water diversion ditch that feeds the Washoe Lakes system, which includes Big and Little Washoe Lakes, as well as the Scripps Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that lies between.

Little Washoe and portions of the Scripps WMA dried up during summer 2021 due to the lack of precipitation and associated stream flows caused by consecutive drought years.
“This is the first time many locals could ever recall Little Washoe Lake levels dropping to this extreme,” said NDOW Habitat Division Administrator Alan Jenne. “We quickly realized a need to investigate to find the root of the issue, possible solutions and evaluate options to make the system more resilient”.

NDOW called a field trip with the Nevada Division of Water Resources, the Nevada Division of State Parks, and the U.S. Federal Water Master in July to evaluate the situation. Despite finding no anomalies or immediate solutions for summer stream flows, the field trip and discussions did reveal an irrigation diversion ditch that washed out during the 2017 floods that could provide some long-term relief for the Washoe lake system if repaired.
NDOW began coordinating with the Washoe Lake Reservoir and Galena Creek Ditch Company, and Nevada Conservation Districts Program to discuss options to repair the ditch. It was found that while the value and use of the water rights that flow through the diversion ditch were still there, the funds necessary for a repair were not.

NDOW quickly volunteered to fund the repair if the ditch company would oversee the project and coordinate with private landowners and the States Conservation District Program to hire someone to make the repairs. Quilici Construction Company, given their extensive experience with these scenarios, was soon hired and the repairs were finalized on Friday, November 5.

“We thank all the partners for their efforts in making this repair and restoring water to the system. This is a great of example of parties with different values coming together on a project with a common overarching goal,” Jenne said. “Time has tested and proven this model where the same water that provides valuable habitat for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl, as well as the numerous fish species, can also provide water storage and flows for the ditch company necessary to support their agricultural uses.”

Since recovery of the water levels after the winter of 2016/2017, NDOW biologists have placed a considerable amount of effort into building viable fisheries in Little and Big Washoe Lakes. Channel Catfish, Bullhead Catfish, White Crappie, Largemouth, and White Bass were all reintroduced into the lakes. Now that Little Washoe Lake is refilling once again and a long-term solution has been found to avoid this situation in the future, the effort to restore that fishery in a similar fashion will begin again.

The water rights that flow through the ditch have a fall/winter delivery season. NDOW hopes that with these waters restored to the system, snowmelt and spring flows will have a better starting base water level so Nevadans will never again have to witness Little Washoe going dry.