Water in the Desert

Project to improve water delivery, wetland habitat work recently completed

a flooded field surrounded by dry grass.

A wetland unit that previously had been dry for almost 10-years now, is flooded from using the new pipeline. Credit: USFWS

By Rob Vinson and John Heil
June 16, 2021

In an attempt to modernize the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge’s water delivery infrastructure, and combat reduced water inflow, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently completed work on a Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act funded project. Refuge staff submitted the proposal, and it was awarded funding in 2017. Work was just recently completed in 2020.

green water surrounded by plants and trees.

An earthen ditch, pre-pipeline. Credit: USFWS

The goals of the project were to reduce water loss, improve timing of water delivery and allow independent water management for each of the Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge wetland units. These goals were achieved by the installation of a three-mile underground pipeline and four lateral water delivery lines. Water conservation practices in an arid environment is a major focus in Pahranagat.

Without water, Pahranagat cannot meet our refuge purpose as a safe sanctuary, for migratory birds,” said Rob Vinson, refuge manager. The water delivery improvements have impacted over 1,240 acres of wetland habitat the first year of operation.

“We are pleased to have received this grant from SNPLMA and are excited about the impact this project will have for providing critical wetland habitats for migratory birds for years to come,” said Vinson.

The project promotes ecological and recreational sustainability with the new underground water delivery system conserving water on Pahranagat. Vinson estimates that the use of the pipeline system could reduce water loss of 2,700 acre-feet by 75%.

With better water conservation, refuge staff can focus on landscape-level habitat restoration to recover a rare wetland ecosystem that provides critical habitat for many species of conservation priority, such as migratory birds.

metal pipes un a ditch.

A valve system and lateral line used to direct the water flow of the pipe system. Credit: USFWS

“Water conservation is one of the top priorities in the Pahranagat Valley, and in southern Nevada, water availability is key to cultural and environmental survivability,” said Vinson. “Improved wetland habitat will likely attract more visitors to the refuge from Las Vegas and other areas, allowing more people to connect to the natural environment.”

Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1963 to protect important wetlands and wet meadows for wetland dependent migratory birds and endangered species of the Pacific Flyway. Pahranagat Valley is but “one link in a chain” of increasingly rare open water and riparian habitats across the arid western United States, especially across Nevada, according to Vinson.

Perennial water on Pahranagat sustains a variety of wetland habitat types, including open water lakes, marshes, wet meadows, alkali meadows and riparian woodlands that provide valuable habitat for many of Nevada’s native species. The refuge provides essential stopover habitat for numerous migratory birds and waterfowl traveling along the Pacific Flyway in the spring and fall.

“Without the SNPLMA funding for this type of large scale project, we wouldn’t be able to complete this important work,” said Vinson. “I am ecstatic to already see the positive results of a water delivery system such as this. We still have a great deal of work to do, but this SNPLMA grant is a big step in the right direction for the future of Pahranagat.”