Environmental Review Toolkit
Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife

Nevada Department of Transportation

Washoe Lake Wetland Mitigation Area

Washoe Lake Wetland Mitigation Area with the Carson Range and Slide Mountain in the background
Washoe Lake Wetland Mitigation Area with the Carson Range and Slide Mountain in the background
Interpretive signs and binoculars on observation deck
Interpretive signs and binoculars on observation deck

At the Washoe Lake Wetland Mitigation Site just a few miles north of Carson City, Nevada, you can observe wildlife from viewing platforms or at water's edge.

The 335-acre wetland mitigation bank was created by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) to offset transportation impacts in and around Carson City and Reno, 25 miles to the north. The site was chosen for its known and potential value as a wildlife breeding and brooding area and a resting and feeding area for migratory shorebirds, waterfowl, amphibians, raptors, and mammals. Since the area was located entirely within the boundaries of Washoe Lake State Park, it could be developed as one large wetland system managed indirectly as part of the State Parks system.

Planning and developing the Washoe Lake site was a collaborative effort between the NDOT, FHWA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Nevada Division of State Parks, and the Nevada Division of State Lands.

To ensure the survival of the wetland mitigation site, NDOT spent $1 million to drill a deep groundwater well and install a surface water pump capable of pumping 900 gallons of water a minute. The well and pump guarantee water to the site during the summer and throughout droughts like the devastating six-year drought of the early 1990s that reduced nearby Washoe Lake to a dust bowl.

The Washoe Lake Wetland Mitigation Area consists of a series of 5 east-west main levees and 4 north-south cross-levees that form 17 varied-depth "impoundments," or ponds. These ponds, along with the levees and the natural topography, form a diverse patchwork of open water, wetland, and upland habitat that benefits a variety of plant and wildlife species. The main water sources consist of Washoe Lake, a seasonal creek, and groundwater. The wetland relies on all of these varied water sources in order to provide reliable habitat even through drought periods. Together, these measures are helping create wetland habitat that will develop the functions and values present in natural wetland systems found in the region.

Cattails, bulrushes, and other native wetland plants now thrive on the levees, and rabbit brush, sagebrush, and other native plants are flourishing on the site's upland slopes. The site is a success for wildlife, too - habitat for species ranging from perch to egrets to coyotes to golden eagles.

Washoe Lake Wetland Mitigation Area also succeeds as an educational resource located near urban development. Visitors to the site can watch wildlife from a wide observation deck . . . learn about the wetland in interpretive displays . . . walk along the accessible levees . . . and even examine insects with a field microscope.

Construction of the wetland mitigation site began in 1988 and took 11 years to complete. Long-term monitoring started a few years ago. Future challenges? Increasingly, the site's groundwater well is being relied on for the sole water source. An NDOT feasibility study determined that an "Aquifer Storage and Recovery" well could solve the problem by pumping lake water directly into the underground aquifer and pumping it back to the surface when needed. But the lake water would have to be treated before being pumped into the aquifer, and a treatment facility would cost the agency about $1 million. The NDOT is researching grants for this solution to the water-shortage issue.

For more information, contact Gail Bellenger at gbellenger@dot.state.nv.us.

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