Angora Creek returns to more natural state
A sewer line buried at Washoe Meadow in the 1960s caused a large section of Angora Creek to take an unnatural path.
The creek moved from its meandering bed and began to flow on top of the sewer line, a path of least resistance. Its serpentine curves straightened and sped its waters, which increased erosion and carved the creek deeper and wider.
Erosion is not good for Lake Tahoe; that’s why the problem is being fixed.
As part of the Environmental Improvement Program, an initiative created in 1997 to save the clarity of Lake Tahoe, the creek is being moved away from the sewer line and raised several feet so it will be more prone to flooding. Flooding is healthy for a meadow.
“Oh yeah, this is cool,” said Cyndie Walck, project manager at California State Parks, which manages Washoe Meadow. “The difference is the depth. The old bed stood 1.5 to 4 feet, in the new one we’re bringing the bottom of the bed up to about 2.5 feet. It will increase the water table and increase vigor of all the plants.”
More vegetation means better filtering of nutrients and sediment of the creek water before it flows into the Upper Truckee River, the largest tributary of Lake Tahoe. Nutrients and sediment loading of the lake are partly responsible for its losing clarity at a rate of more than a foot each year, according to the Tahoe Research Group, which has studied the lake since 1959.
After restoration work at Angora is complete, 2,600 feet of creek will have been lengthened to 3,700 feet. The new creek bed will be longer because of added twists and turns, which increases the chance for flooding and creates good habitat for wildlife. The old bed is being filled with native soil and grasses.
The nearly $500,000 construction project began Aug. 12 and is expected to wrap up at the beginning of October. Grants from California State Parks, California Tahoe Conservancy and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board are financing the project.
South Tahoe Public Utility District installed the sewer line that caused the change in the creek. Dennis Cocking, district spokesman, said hindsight is always 20/20 and a similar project would not happen today.
“If we could do things all over again, we wouldn’t run sewer lines through meadows,” Cocking said. “There just wasn’t the environmental awareness there is now.”
Walck said moving the creek away from the sewer line will also ensure that sewage doesn’t enter the creek from a leaking pipe. Cocking said the change does reduce those odds, but the odds were not great because the pipe that runs through the meadow is not pressurized.
“It’s a gravity system,” he said. “Unless somebody breaches the system with a back hoe, or there is a huge storm event and there is infiltration into the sewer system, it’s not going to have a problem with leaks.”
Washoe Meadows State Park is a 620-acre piece of land, between Meyers and Lake Tahoe Golf Course that runs along Sawmill Road.
Watershed Science, a construction firm based at Aromas, Calif., is doing the work at the meadow. Walck, Matt Kiesse of River Run, and Jim Haen of Haen Engineering designed the project.
Doug Straw, a founder of Watershed Science, said one of the more challenging aspects of the project was creating an environmentally sound road, with a fabric base, so equipment can move through the meadow.
“The mowing, raking and laying down the fabric,” Straw said. “And making the effort to find a productive way to do it.”
In 1997, California State Parks restored a section of Angora Creek that runs through Lake Tahoe Golf Course. That project turned 1,200 feet of straight bed into 4,500 feet of meandering creek.
— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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