Heavy rains leave their mark on watershed | SierraSun.com

Heavy rains leave their mark on watershed

Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunHeavy precipitation has eroded part of a trail in Martis Valley. Storms have taken their toll on many of the area's creeks and streams.

Watershed experts are curious how much damage they will find when they inspect rivers, creeks and streams that have been taxed, and in some cases overwhelmed, by this winter’s early warm and wet winter storms.

“Everybody has a level of concern,” said Lisa Wallace, executive director of the Truckee River Watershed Council.

Wallace knows there has been erosion, cut banks and other damage from the high flows. But the watershed council is waiting until the spring to inspect areas of the watershed they have worked on to see “what held up and why it held up.”

Between the rain storms, a bright spot has emerged. A restoration project on Davies Creek last fall for Truckee River Day has held against the high water.

“It got washed pretty hard but it’s holding up pretty well,” said Randy Westmoreland, the watershed programs manager for the eastern side of the Tahoe National Forest, who recently visited the creek. “When the water was going down it was going right where we wanted it to go.”

The creek now flows through a reclaimed campground, following a natural course it hadn’t seen since it was diverted to make way for an old railroad spur. The restoration project was a partnership between the watershed council and the U.S. Forest Service.

“A wetland emerged where there previously was a turnaround spot in the campground,” Westmoreland said.

But other creeks and streams have seen damaging and eroding flows ” especially in places where channels have been altered, he said.

“It seems we have the biggest problem where we’ve modified the natural course of things,” Westmoreland said.

But Wallace at the Truckee River Watershed Council, which in addition to the Davies and Merrill watershed project near Stampede Reservoir is planning restoration work in Coldstream Canyon and Gray Creek, said the high water damage was exacerbated in many cases by deterioration of the watersheds.

“The flows in and of themselves are not damaging or catastrophic,” Wallace said. “But if these watersheds are already unhealthy [they can be destructive].”

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