With help from many, the Truckee River is getting healthier
“By 1903, the Truckee River’s water quality had deteriorated to the point where the Reno Evening Gazette reported that the river’s water at the Virginia Street bridge in downtown Reno consisted of a ‘blend between black and brown with soapy bubbles covering the surface.'” (Truckee River Chronology, Nevada Division of Water Resources).We are fortunate these are no longer the conditions of the Truckee River – that industrial pollution is no longer happening. But this is not the standard of comparison we want for the Truckee River and its creeks and streams. Our passion and understanding of the river demand that our standards of river health be much higher. The vast majority of locals and visitors in the Truckee River watershed want to be sure the river, creeks, streams and lakes are safe for swimming and boating, that the river supports a thriving ecosystem and fishery, and that the river is beautiful. We can have that, but we have work to do.The Truckee River and its tributaries are not pristine, and the hard truth is, they never can be again. Our river system has seven dams in California alone (Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake, Independence Lake, Boca Reservoir, Stampede Reservoir, Prosser Lake, and Martis Lake). These dams provide benefits, including drinking water to Reno, irrigation to farmers south of Reno, recreation like water skiing and support of property values. These dams are not going away. As with so many things in life, along with their advantages, dams have disadvantages. They significantly change the natural hydrograph (water flow) of the upstream and downstream creeks and of the main stem of the Truckee River. The altered flows change the natural temperature variation of the water, change the natural seasonal depth of the water, change the cycle of erosion and deposition of gravel and soil, change the formation of pools, riffles, runs, and change the formation of ox bows, sand bars and overhanging banks. All these impacts cause still more impacts to the natural vegetation, the habitats, the types of insects, fish, birds and even mammals that can live in and around the creeks, streams and river. The dams are one of the reasons the Truckee River is on a list of impaired waters. Other reasons include land and water uses like improperly conducted historic logging and mining, and improperly constructed modern railroad, road and urban development. The list of impaired water bodies is called the 303(d) list, so named because it refers to the section of the Clean Water Act that requires states to identify waters that do not meet water quality standards.Perhaps the Truckee River (and other local waters) will come off the 303(d) list. Hundreds of people have been working to make that happen. But right now, the data about the health of the Truckee River is inconclusive. We do not know if the river is healthy enough to give up its protected status. Research is funded and underway so that we can answer these questions. The studies include one on the amount of sediment discharge from tributaries, one on the health of macroinvertebrates (water bugs) because macroinvertebrates are a vital indicator of ecosystem health, and a set of in-depth stream surveys.Many of the people and organizations working on understanding, restoring and protecting the health of the river are part of the Truckee River Watershed Council (TRWC). The TRWC works on habitat restoration, water quality monitoring, invasive weeds, watershed planning and more. We work extensively with a wide range of stakeholders including businesses, agencies and non-profits. We are working with the Truckee Donner Land Trust, which has purchased a parcel along Gray Creek, and the TRWC will lead a restoration project there.For big projects like this, we bring funding into the area from state grants. We get additional funding from donations from local citizens and businesses. Another part of our work is to facilitate meetings on issues about watershed health, as we did for the 303(d) listing of the Truckee River (these meeting were the Truckee River TMDL meetings). As a 501c3 non-profit organization, the TRWC is not a political organization. We are not a regulatory agency. I want thank the hundreds of volunteers who come out every October for Truckee River Day. 2005 is the 10th anniversary of Truckee Day and I hope to see you there. Thank you also to the dozens of people who participate in planning meetings, bringing research to bear on questions of where to spend limited time and money. Thanks to the water agencies for adjusting the flows of the Truckee River closer to natural cycle while meeting the needs of the people in California and Nevada.If you want to participate, join the Truckee River Watershed Council. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is needed. We are together for the Truckee.Lisa Wallace is the executive director of the Truckee River Watershed Council (TRWC). The stakeholders of the TRWC provide collaborative solutions to protect, enhance, and restore the Truckee River watershed. Learn more at http://www.truckeeriverwc.org.
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