California State Parks offers new plans for Upper Truckee Restoration | SierraSun.com

California State Parks offers new plans for Upper Truckee Restoration

By Maggie Mayer Tahoe Daily Tribune

After a November court ruling resulted in California State Parks compromising restoration plans for the Upper Truckee River at Washoe Meadows State Park and Lake Valley State Recreation Area, the department has developed a new alternative and is seeking public comment until the end of this month.

The new plan for the Upper Truckee River Restoration and Golf Course Reconfiguration Project, Alternative 2B, is now the preferred method of action. It would relocate five of the holes of Lake Tahoe Golf Course while restoring the river. The other option on the table, Alternative 1, would require no action but treatments to the river as needed.

“The Upper Truckee River is one of the biggest producers of sediment going into Lake Tahoe,” said Cyndie Walck, an engineering geologist for California State Parks and leader of the restoration project. “A river works kind of like a conveyor belt for water and sediment, and a lot of what makes rivers go out of whack is when you mess with the slope.”

In the 1940s, parts of the Upper Truckee were straightened to form a direct channel, a common practice at the time. However, this means sediment can’t be properly filtered and is instead deposited in the lake. This ultimately destroyed the wetland ecosystem that should exist there, and now contributes to 16 dump trucks’ worth of sediment entering the lake annually, according to an environmental assessment report from Swanson Hydrology and Geomorphology (SH&G).

Versions of restoration plans have been in the works for years, but backlash over how the river and golf course should be reconfigured has stalled progress.

The Washoe Meadows Community has filed two lawsuits against the California Department of Parks and Recreation, one in November 2011, in which State Parks rescinded its project approval and provided required reports. The community acted again after a second project approval in 2012. The approval was revoked because the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) did not layout a specific plan available for the public.

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Lynne Paulson, the leader of the Washoe Meadows Community effort, said at one point the group had about 500 people supporting its cause, and there are still hundreds of active participants.

The community initially rejected proposed Alternative 2, which had been approved and rescinded following the lawsuits. It would have relocated nine holes and resulted in about 1,600 trees being cut down.

The League to Save Lake Tahoe also opposed the plan, but has not yet taken a stance on Alternative 2B, according to Chris Carney, the League’s communications manager.

The goal of the project is to restore the natural flow of water to the area, allowing the river to revive the floodplain and eventually, return to the wetland habitat that would exist there had it been left alone by human hands. In order to do this, the area must be excavated so that the river regains a meandering flow, and the riverbed must be raised to counteract several feet of erosion to the banks.

Both sides claim that the river, not the golf course, is the priority, but Walck says the golf course configuration is a byproduct of the project at large.

Under Alternative 2B, the river would be rerouted over part of what is now golf course, and relocating some of the golf course on what is now state park land. It would expand the size of the state park by about two acres and reduce the size of the course by 15 percent.

Finally, the restoration plan aims to make the state land more accessible, since there is currently no designated parking or entrance, and the trails are limited and overgrown. Paulson said the community agrees that the state park should be made more accessible.

THE GOLF COURSE

The root of the argument is what to do with Lake Tahoe Golf Course, which sits on Lake Valley State Recreation Area; whether it should be kept 18 holes or reduced to nine, or if state park land should be used to relocate some of the holes. Doing so would declassify some of the land as state park and turn it into state recreation area, because golf courses can’t exist in state parks.

Paulson said this move is unprecedented, and the Washoe Meadows Community is open to keeping the 18-hole course as it is, if that means the state park land is protected. Likewise, it could be reduced to nine holes if the river needs to be directed through what is now part of the course.

“(State Parks) is refusing to make improvements to the existing course,” she said. “They could reconfigure the golf course where it already is.”

The community doesn’t want the golf course to exist on either side of the river, which would likely happen under Alternative 2B.

The argument for keeping it is the financial gain and recreational opportunity a full course provides.

Lake Tahoe Golf Course brings in about $600,000 annually for the parks department, and about two-thirds of players are visitors to the Basin. It is because of this economic advantage that Walck said getting rid of half the course isn’t feasible.

At the same time, the river can’t be diverted completely around the existing course without a portion of the course being converted to floodplain.

Both sides have conflicting economic views about the golf course. One report from the Washoe Meadows Community, prepared by TCW Economics, cites a decline in golf participation in recent years and rebukes claims about the golf course’s contribution to the South Shore’s economy.

WHY WETLANDS?

Despite two lawsuits and years of drafting, approving, and rescinding plans, both sides have the same goal — to protect the Upper Truckee River and its surrounding land.

Wetlands are some of the most valuable ecosystems Mother Nature has to offer, and their filtration ability makes them key players in Tahoe’s pristine waters. About 75 percent of the wetlands in the Tahoe Basin have been destroyed, according to the League to Save Lake Tahoe, which has a direct effect on Big Blue’s declining clarity.

They are also powerhouses at sequestering and storing carbon, holding an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the world’s soil carbon, though they only occupy about 6 percent of land surface area. Finally, wetlands are nature’s method of flood control, because floodplains act as sponges for excess water.

Since the 19th century, about 90 percent of California’s wetlands have been drained, most for agricultural and irrigation developments, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS).

Least to say, wetlands and their functions are important — and we are now seeing the long-term consequences after centuries of damage to these ecosystems.

“You have to be very careful when you’re working with rivers so they have the right slope and the right curviness,” Walck said. “If you get those geo-parameters right it supports all the rest of the ecosystem.”

PUBLIC OUTREACH

State Parks is seeking public comment until July 30; a comment form can be found at the Upper Truckee Restoration website, http://www.restoreuppertruckee.net, where maps of the project proposal and land reconfiguration can also be found. Queries can also be sent to utproject@parks.ca.gov.

Walck will be hosting a public tour of the state park and recreation area on Tuesday, July 17, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. for those interested in the project. The tour group will be meeting at the corner of Bakersfield Street and Country Club Drive. State Parks encourages you to RSVP at utproject@parks.ca.gov.

Information about the Washoe Meadows Community and counterarguments to the proposals can be found at http://www.washoemeadowscommunity.org.

The California Tahoe Conservancy (CTC), Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Reclamation and the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program are partners for the proposed restoration project.

If State Parks moves forward with the preferred plan, Walck said it could take about three years to break ground and several more until the habitat is restored. There is currently no construction funding, but that could come from different sources down the line, including California Proposition 68, the Parks, Environment and Water Bond.