The lake is suffering poor water quality due to high nutrient enrichment and poor circulation. Blue green algal blooms result from very high phosphorus and nitrogen loads in the water, coupled with low or no flow through the lake, causing extremely low oxygen levels in the water. Blue green algae can create natural toxins, dangerous to birds, fish, and animals. This is detrimental to the whole watershed, as Virginia Lake flows out through the storm drain system into Boynton Slough, Steamboat Creek, and back to the Truckee River.
As a result, the City of Reno embarked on a water quality study at Virginia Lake to identify contributing factors to the declined water quality and potential steps to mitigate those factors. City staff have collected water quality data in Virginia Lake and hired a lake management consultant to evaluate the lake data for management recommendations.
View MaxDepth Aquatics consultant memo on Virginia Lake water quality.
October 26, 2015 Update
Construction on a new outlet and connecting pipeline at Virginia Lake began the week of October 26. The project includes adding a pipeline under the eastern perimeter of the lake to improve water circulation and water quality. The project is expected to be completed by December 2015, weather permitting. For a detailed look at the enhanced water circulation project, click here.
The community overwhelmingly supported the water circulation project at the public meeting in June 2015, when the multi-year approach to improving water quality at Virginia Lake was discussed. The new pipeline is expected to create better circulation in Virginia Lake 80 percent of the time. It will not help during drought conditions when flows in the Truckee River are too low to contribute to flows to Virginia Lake, which is why the City is continuing its research on this issue.
The improved circulation project will be just one of the steps the City is planning to take to address water quality at Virginia Lake. The City continues to collect water samples and is analyzing results with a scientific working group. This information will be used to identify the underlying water quality issues at Virginia Lake to ensure that selected management option best addresses the problem. The City is planning another community meeting in late 2015 or early 2016 to present preliminary data results and discuss next steps.
Meeting #3 on June 2, 2015
Additionally, a scientific working group will continue to collect samples, monitor water quality, and analyze data to zero in on the underlying problems at Virginia Lake. This information, along with public input, will help drive the next phase of the project.
"Science and public engagement are critical to this process. We have reached out to the science community to evaluate solutions that will solve the complex water quality problem at Virginia Lake. At the same time, we continue to look to the public for ideas and to validate solutions before any decisions are made," Councilmember Duerr said.
Meetings #1 and #2
City representatives initiated public outreach with a presentation to the Reno Recreation and Parks Commission and a public meetings in September and December, 2014. Area residents, special interest groups and Virginia Lake users were presented with water quality information and potential management strategies. Review audience comments and follow up information related to that input.
Residents were able to text their preferred management alternative for the lake (see options below). See the results below:
Management Alternatives for Virginia Lake
Public health closures caused by harmful algal blooms, diseased and dying waterfowl, and public input have driven considerations for making improvements to Virginia Lake. Below please find four alternatives for large scale changes to the lake. Please read the options below to learn more about each of the alternatives.
A. Maintain existing conditions
In this option, the City will make no changes to the maintenance or operation of the lake
B. Improve circulation in the lake in 2015
In this option, the island will remain as is, and the City will move forward with water circulation improvement to the lake in 2015. This option relies on water quality data to inform, keeping the door open for a potential island project later. In other communities, high levels of nutrients have caused harmful algal blooms even while water is flowing.
C. Reduce the size of the island in winter 2015
In this option, the diameter of the island would be reduced by 50% to reduce dense populations of nesters, while retaining nesting habitat for waterfowl. A reduction in nesting populations is expected to reduce pollution by bird excrement. In this option, the City will also move forward with circulation improvements to the lake in 2015.
D. Island removal
In this option, the island would be removed completely to remove nesting habitat on the surface of Virginia Lake. The removal of nesting populations on the lake is expected to greatly reduce pollution by bird excrement. As well, in this option, the City will move forward designing and installing a system to improve circulation in the lake.
Alternatives that may be considered with this option include the creation of nesting habitat along trails at the storm water outfalls to the lake. This will incorporate water quality improvement measures such as marsh cells and provide the creation of nesting habitat along the shoreline. This is a fine tuning option expected to have multiple beneficial outcomes to the lake and wildlife.
Review Fact Sheet on Virginia Lake and PowerPoint presentations given at the September and December public meetings. Additional information will be posted as it becomes available.
High nutrients and the subsequent blue green algae blooms at Virginia Lake created a toxic water condition in 2014, resulting in a Public Health Advisory at Virginia Lake. The health advisory was lifted from Virginia Lake on October 30, 2014.
Read about Avian Botulism and its affect on bird populations like those at Virginia Lake.
Read our blog post about how you can help prevent algal blooms in Virginia Lake.