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Alvord Lake Watershed (USGS #17120009)

The Alvord Lake watershed is located in Harney County on the border of Nevada. The watershed encompasses the Alvord Basin, which includes the Alvord Desert and Alvord Lake itself. Alvord Lake is a shallow, alkaline lake that is located at an elevation of over four thousand feet. All streams in the watershed drain into Alvord Lake. The lake was once home to an endemic species of trout, the Alvord cutthroat trout, which has become extinct through breeding with non-native rainbow trout.

The Alvord Lake watershed is managed and protected by many private, state, and nonprofit organizations. These include the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, Environment Oregon, the Harney County Watershed Council, Solv Watershed Programs, Oregon State University Watershed Extension Program, Oregon Conservation Network, Oregon Watershed Land Trust, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the Sierra Nevada Alliance.

One issue of concern within the watershed is low water quality in streams, such as pollution, high temperature, and low dissolved oxygen. Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has developed a plan in accordance with the federal Clean Water Act to improve the water quality. The DEQ has established limits known as Total Maximum Daily Loads for each pollutant type, including heat, entering a stream. Efforts are being made to restore riparian vegetation, which will shade streams and reduce water temperature. Riparian restoration and the consequent decrease in water temperature will also inhibit the growth of algae, which is the main culprit in the lack of dissolved oxygen in the streams. When a large number of algae grow and then die, the decomposition of their bodies depletes oxygen in the water. The DEQ plans to use an adaptive management strategy to manage the Alvord watershed, meaning that it will track plan implementation with the intent of revising plans that are not successful.


Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fact sheet on the Alvord Lake Subbasin

The Environmental Protection Agency's Surf Your Watershed website for Alvord Lake

Oregon Department of Environmental Quality's Strategy for Monitoring Oregon's Waters

Authored by Caitlin Bell, Science Writer, Oregon Explorer