Quest to restore wetlands takes infusion of water |

Quest to restore wetlands takes infusion of water

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

It’s raining and the sprinklers are running. Water restrictions are in effect and the sprinklers are running.

The California Tahoe Conservancy is in the process of establishing a wetland, which takes time and water. This is why it is overwatering land attached to the Upper Truckee River.

This is the third summer the Conservancy has irrigated the area from June to October to help native grasses and plants flourish. It had two wells drilled so it would have adequate water for the project.

“It’s going great,” said Brian Wilkinson, Conservancy program coordinator for watershed and stream restoration. “We’re actually really close to having enough vegetation established to remove the water dams.”

The dams, huge black bags filled with water, separate the wetland from the Upper Truckee. When the Conservancy receives the required permits, which could be any day, the dams will come out and join the wetland with the river. It probably won’t flood the wetland right way, but when the level of the river or the lake is higher it will.

Environmental engineers say such flooding is healthy for Lake Tahoe because wetlands filter out nutrients and sediments that promote algae growth. Once all the plants and grasses are established it will no longer need to be irrigated, Wilkinson said.

The Conservancy has spent about $6 million for the restoration project, part of the Environmental Improvement Program, a list of projects compiled in 1997 to help protect lake clarity.

The 11-acre restored wetland is part of 500 acres east of the Tahoe Keys Marina owned by the Conservancy. The agency began buying land over the last decade to protect it and restore it to its natural state.

Before Tahoe Keys was constructed in the 1950s, that area of South Shore consisted of a 1,200-acre marsh. The wetland being restored today was covered with fill when the Keys was built in the 1950s.

The Conservancy has been challenged in trying to provide enough protection to restore the 500-acre area while maintaining public access. Figuring out how to make people keep their dogs on a leash so they don’t run and scare off wildlife has been a problem. So has vandalism.

Sprinklers along a 2,000-foot path that runs along the west side of the wetland have been broken or repositioned. Repairs are expected to cost about $5,000.

“We’re going to modify those, put in pop-up sprinkler heads that are flush with the ground,” Wilkinson said. “We’ve had ongoing problem with people knocking those heads and breaking them. Water bubbles off the irrigation line, in a sense flooding the trail.”

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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