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Checking on Cold Creek

The brisk waters of Cold Creek flow clear this time of year, but the signs of a damaged watershed are all around.Dead and dying trees line the banks of the stream that drains Coldstream Canyon, and with heavy rains or rapid snowmelt the rushing waters turn a chocolate hue.These warning signs led the Truckee River Watershed Council to apply for – and be awarded – $120,000 in state funding to study the troubled creek.And by this time next year the Truckee-based nonprofit hopes to know what is contributing to the unsettling indicators in and around the stream. “We know the hydrology is not good, but we don’t know why,” said Lisa Wallace, executive director of the Truckee River Watershed Council.There are clues in the history of the canyon. Construction of railroad tracks, gravel mining, logging and road construction have all altered the landscape of the canyon. In one spot the creek flows through a large culvert to pass under the railroad tracks.”We are concerned it is an unhealthy watershed,” Wallace said.By studying the creek, and coming up with a list of projects to restore the watershed, Wallace’s group hopes to avoid a future incident like the disastrous flooding of the creek in 1997.Flood of 1997A warm “pineapple express” storm moved into the Truckee area in early 1997. The heavy rains and melting snow engorged Cold Creek, causing the culvert under the railroad tracks to spray water “like a fire hose,” Wallace said.The raging waters, made worse by the man-made alteration of the watershed, cut into river banks, dumping tons of sediment into the creek.Some sediment is normal for a drainage area like Coldstream Canyon, but the amount of sediment often flows through the creek is suspected to be unhealthy, Wallace said.”At the headwater of the canyon some of the soils are very erosive,” she said. “But we know below the railroad crossing there is excessive erosion taking place.”The flood of 1997 was only estimated to be a “50-year event” – a level of flooding that can be expected to happen an average of every 50 years. The standard for town planning is to project a 100-year event and plan for it.A long time comingIn the years that the watershed council has organized and completed restoration projects on the Truckee River, Martis Creek and other nearby streams, watershed council officials have known that Cold Creek was a stream that needed to be studied. The health of the stream is important to the canyon, as well as the Truckee River, of which Cold Creek is a tributary, said Kathleen Eagan, chairwoman of the council’s projects and assessment committee.”We have been talking about wanting to do a watershed assessment in terms of the root cause of the sediment … for maybe five years,” said Eagan. “We’ve been thinking about this for a long time.”Finding the source of the problems in the creek and then working to restore the waterway will solve a host of problems that are interconnected, she said. Reducing sediment, for example, will improve fisheries, Eagan said.”Once people really start working on these issues they really can restore the fisheries,” said Eagan.Partnering with property ownersThe key to restoring Coldstream’s watershed is to bring together the handful of diverse property owners that own land in the canyon, Wallace said.Watershed council members said they have received that agreement in principal with owners ranging from Teichert Aggregates, the U.S. Forest Service and California State Parks.”I am really excited that all the property owners decided to work together,” Wallace said.


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