Cookhouse Meadow gets a face-lift |

Cookhouse Meadow gets a face-lift

Amanda Fehd

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Troy Johnston, with the U.S. Forest Service watershed restoration project, gets a little help laying sod around the new river bank in the Cookhouse Meadow.

The Forest Service has started the first phase of a $900,000 restoration project at Cookhouse Meadow off Highway 89 to turn a straight and deep channel into a meandering creek.

Project organizers hope redirecting 2,300 feet of creek, which feeds into the North Upper Truckee River, will restore health to 125 acres of surrounding ecosystem by bringing back wetter, perennial plants, and more migratory birds.

Meadow restoration projects help address erosion problems by slowing water down and raising the water table, said Craig Oehrli, a Forest Service hydrologist with the project.

It also allows sediment that would flow straight into Lake Tahoe to be deposited in the meadow instead, he said.

“When a flood comes through, the stream will overflow and drop sediment on the meadow,” said Oerhli.

The meadow will also provide a habitat for more rodents, supplying prey for other wildlife, said Jeff Reiner, head of ecosystem restoration at the Forest Service in Lake Tahoe.

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The project was made possible by money from Southern Nevada land sales, directed through the Environment Improvement Program to the Forest Service.

The stream now runs in a deep, 8- to 9-foot channel, and meanders only slightly.

Even when a flood warning went out this spring for most of the creeks in South Lake Tahoe, this creek did not come close to overflowing its banks, Oehrli said.

Old Basque carvings have been found on the trees around the meadow, indicating it was used for grazing at least 100 years back. At that point, the stream was redirected into a straighter channel, perhaps for irrigation.

The meadow does not host typical water-loving plants, but rather more drought-tolerant varieties. Evergreen trees, which do not prefer extremely wet areas, flourish along the old creek side.

On Aug. 1, crews started digging a separate creek bed, only half as deep as the older channel. All the uprooted vegetation is being reused at the site, which significantly decreases the cost of the project, Oehrli said.

Crews laid sod and willow into the sides of the new creek bed, keeping them wet with water pumped from the old channel. New sprouts could be seen on recently transplanted willow, indicating the vegetation is already starting to take.

Based on other projects at Angora and Trout Creeks, the vegetation should regrow very quickly, Oehrli said.

Large mounds of dirt removed from the new creek bed will be used to fill the old channel. Willows, wildflowers and sod growing in the old channel will be dug up and put on top of the fill.

Deer, birds, bats, fish and insects are some of the wildlife that should flourish after the project, Oerhli said.