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River healing from flood of 1997 damage

by Bruce Ajari

The Truckee River appears to be rebounding well from the effects of the flood of 1997.

The flood was devastating to the river, property owners and businesses.

Most property owners and businesses are on the road to recovery, and the Truckee is mending, too. The consensus was that in the long run, the flood would be beneficial by removing much of the siltation that had filled in the upper river. The flood left clean gravel in the Truckee in place of the silt.

By removing the silt, the gravel would once again support spawning in the upper river. This stretch of the river had once been a very important area for trout reproduction.

As a fisherman looking at the river this year, it appears that the river has every appearance of a healthy recovery.

The productivity of aquatic food chains depends on the energy from sunlight used by aquatic and terrestrial plants to generate new organic matter which, in turn, is eaten by stream-dwelling organisms.

Aquatic plants include algae growing on the surface of the streambed and in the water itself, and rooted vascular plants. Terrestrial plants contribute organic matter to streams and rivers in the form of wood debris, leaves, needles and other plant litter that falls into streams, as well as groundwater containing dissolved organic compounds of terrestrial origin.

Abundance of life

This abundance of plant life in the Truckee is apparent. The color in the water is a very nice green. This is pretty indicative of an abundance of the plant life mentioned above.

Plants in the stream makes food available to trout in several ways. First, aquatic plants increase the density of potential prey by providing a nutritious and easily digested source of organic matter for invertebrates to eat.

Second, by extending into the current, plants place potential prey directly within the path of flowing water, which makes it easier for more of them to be carried off in the current. Third, dead aquatic plants contribute an important source of detritus (plants broken down into minute particles-food) to invertebrates.

Algal growth

The productivity of a stream is strongly influenced by riparian vegetation and by watershed geology. Streams that are open to sunlight and that possess abundant riffles with relatively clean gravel provide an excellent environment for algal growth.

In addition to gravel quality, concentrations of nutrients have a marked effect on the rate of plant growth.

The Truckee appears to be doing well according to these guidelines of plant growth and quality of gravel. This, coupled with the fact that trout appear to have plenty of cover available to them to protect them from the current, predators and competitors would seem to indicate that the Truckee River fishery is on the road to recovery.

The productivity of a stream generally depends upon the availability of food and the quantity and quality of spawning and rearing habitat. The spawning habitat has certainly been improved with the cleaning of the gravel, the invertebrates are making a very good comeback as noted by samples taken by local anglers in the Truckee this year. The trout population should do well as a result.

With another good winter, and the watermaster indicating he will release water from the Tahoe City dam at 650 cubic feet per second throughout the season, we have plenty of water.

Changes

The big concern is just how changes to these releases are made. The flows in the river are just as critical to health of the river as the elements of productivity discussed. Too little or too much water could certainly be detrimental to it’s overall health.

This has been a huge problem since the historical operation of the Truckee River has been through a complicated maze of court decrees. As a result, management of the river is not a matter of logic, but rather numbers in the form of flow rates at gauging stations. Whether or not these issues can be resolved in the new Truckee River Operating Agreement remains to be seen. The consensus here seems to be that the changes may be pretty small ones.

So, is the river healthy?

Yes, it appears to be doing fine for now. The jury is still out on the big picture.

Fishing report

Boca – (33,511 ac. ft.) Boca has been fishing fair. Most anglers fishing from shore near the inlet are having success. The area near the dam is also fishing well. Most anglers use nightcrawlers or PowerBait. Boaters are having some success. Most were using a combination of flashers and a nightcrawler or minnow imitating lure. Flyfishermen near the inlet are having fair to good action using a variety of nymphs, streamers and emergers.

Donner – Fishing was fair to good for the opener. Most anglers fishing for rainbows on the west end and near the launch ramp have had some success. A few large fish were reported. Nightcrawlers and PowerBait seem to be the ticket. Trollers using minnow imitating lures have had fair to good action.

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