River conservation group set sights on Negro Canyon | SierraSun.com

River conservation group set sights on Negro Canyon

Greyson Howard
Sierra Sun

Greyson Howard/Sierra SunLooking up Negro Canyon from Interstate 80 Wednesday. The Truckee River Watershed Council is wrapping up an assessment of the canyon's watershed to figure out what might need repair.

TRUCKEE ” The steep volcanic walls and glacial till of Negro Canyon mean the watershed will always drain some sediment into Donner Lake and eventually the Truckee River ” it’s supposed to.

But logging and a maze of old dirt roads have tipped the balance, exponentially increasing the sand and silt being washed from the mountain side down to the lake.

The Truckee River Watershed Council has known Negro Canyon and its main waterway, Gregory Creek, are troubled due to past human disturbance, but now with the help of Integrated Environmental Restoration Services and River Run Consulting, they have the information they need to repair it.

“Negro Canyon is a very important part of the Truckee River watershed,” said Beth Christman of the watershed council. “We know there is fantastic habitat value in Negro Canyon and we think it’s recoverable.”

Michael Hogan of Integrated Environmental Restoration Services said the main problem in the 2,500-acre Canyon is sediment being washed down into Donner Lake.

“There are layers and layers of human impact on the function of the watershed,” Hogan said.

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Scores of roads cut throughout the canyon, mainly in the logging days, mean water running downhill can jump out of natural channels, causing significantly more erosion, said Jerry Dion of the same organization.

And Matt Keisse of River Run Consulting said that impacts the organisms in the water all the way up to the fish.

But some sedimentation is natural ” especially in a steep canyon made of volcanic rock and shaped by glaciers like Negro Canyon, Keisse said.

So the problem generally occurs during storm events where rain falls on top of snow, he said, dragging massive amounts of sand, gravel, and silt downstream.

The combined efforts of the watershed council, Environmental Restoration Services and River Run Consulting gives the groups a game plan on what should be repaired where, and in what order, Hogan said.

For the most part, the work will be tilling up and taking out the road grades and restoring streams to their natural channels, he said.

That doesn’t mean people used to using the dirt roads will have to go without, however, Hogan said.

“We can actually provide new trails within the process,” Hogan said. “We’ve found if you don’t give them trails there will be trails anyway, and we can’t control how erosion resistant they are.”

Christman said the watershed council will be able to tackle work on piece at a time as funding comes in, probably over the course of three to five years.

“We may be able to implement something in 2010 once we have environmental compliance,” Christman said. “Altogether the project could be pretty expensive, so we’ll just chip away at it.”

Negro Canyon likely got its name from a black settler who came to the Truckee area at the turn of the 20th century. Located above Donner Lake between Tahoe Donner and Donner Summit just outside Truckee town limits, local historians believe the Canyon was named for Albert Johnson.

According to the Truckee Republican, predecessor to the Sierra Sun, Johnson first appeared in the area in 1878, and may have been a veteran of the Civil War.

After working in the restaurant business he began renting cabins on Donner Lake near the outlet of Gregory Creek, which drains down from Negro Canyon.

The name Negro Canyon first officially appeared on U.S. Geological Survey maps in 1955, but no official records tie Johnson to the Canyon, so the origin of the name may never be certain.

” Information from http://www.tdlandtrust.org