Little Truckee dam site remains safety hazard
With spring’s arrival, water enthusiasts gear up for a summer of river fun. Rescue personnel also gear up, but it is for the many river rescues that will be performed in the course of a season.
One area of focus is the danger associated with the Little Truckee River that runs from Stampede Reservoir to Boca Reservoir, specifically the low head dam just past the Boyington Mill Campground.
The death of a kayaker last year prompted more concern over the dam’s dangers, not only to recreationists but to rescue personnel, in this case personnel from the Truckee Fire Protection District.
“This area has always been a concern,” said Deputy Fire Chief Mike Terwilliger. “That area is just dangerous. Something has to be done.”
Last year the district wrote letters to the Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation requesting the “Boca Weir” be removed. Terwilliger said red tape is holding up any solution.
Rick Maddelena of the Truckee Ranger District said options are still on the table, but because the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Geological Survey want to keep the dam to maintain data continuity for tracking water flows, the dam hasn’t been a top priority.
“There are warning signs at the weir, at the campground and along the river,” Maddelena said. “All we can do now is warn people of the hazard.”
Maddelena said there will always be people who insist on passing through the dam, either in kayaks or rafts. Whether to mitigate the dangers has not yet been decided.
“The public has been informed,” said Locke Hahne, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Operations and Maintenance Division chief. “There are pros and cons to removing the dam, but that area will never be 100 percent safe.”
Hahne agreed red tape between the agencies is holding up decision making.
“We (BOR) will work with the Forest Service if they need help removing the dam,” he said.
“Right now the problem is that if someone gets stuck (at the dam) there’s not much that can be done.”
Terwilliger said the danger is high.
“It’s like a washing machine down there,” Terwilliger said. “It’s too dangerous.”
Terwilliger added that responders do more than just throw lines to those in the water.
“This is not a new problem,” he said. “I hope no one waits until someone else dies there.”
Maddelena said mitigation measures include filling the lower portion of the dam with large boulders to “mitigate turbidity in the surgepool.”
Terwilliger and Hahne agree this would be the best option. Data could still be collected, enthusiasts could still use the river and the hazards would be lessened.
The decision rests with the Forest Service, with the recommendations from the interests in BOR, USGS and the Truckee River Operating Agreement.
“This isn’t a ‘spring thing,'” Maddelena said. “The flows run high and low throughout the season.
“The signs have been there for three years, so we will just have to see if the priorities change.”
Terwilliger said that’s not good enough.
“We’re going to have another one (fatality),” he said. “We can’t wait for that. There can’t be finger pointing and red tape when it comes to lives.”
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