Upper Truckee River restoration may impact Lake Tahoe clarity for the better | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Upper Truckee River restoration may impact Lake Tahoe clarity for the better

Sebastian Foltz | sfoltz@tahoedailytribune.com
Heavy machinery moves dirt during a previous summer of construction on the new Upper Truckee River channel. The four-year project is expected to be completed in October.
Courtesy / California Tahoe Conservancy |

With a number of ongoing lakewide projects to reduce fine sediments entering the lake, Tahoe’s famed clarity may see some degree of improvement in years to come. Among a host of highway drainage and environmental restoration efforts in the basin, continued work on the Upper Truckee River — the lake’s largest tributary — is expected to play a significant role.

U.S. Forest Service and California Tahoe Conservancy announced this week they will complete a four-year restoration effort on one of five sections of the river this fall. The project will require closing a portion of the river and surrounding area to the public later this summer.

“This is the largest wetland restoration to date in Tahoe,” conservancy associate environmental planner Chris Mertens said. “It’s going to have a significant impact on fine sediments entering Lake Tahoe.”

Fine sediments are widely considered to have the largest effect on lake clarity. As the lake’s largest tributary, the Upper Truckee is one of the more significant contributors of fine sediments to the lake, along with outdated highway and developed-area runoff filtration.

Each of Upper Truckee River’s five sections are currently at varying stages of planning and active restoration as part of an interagency effort between state and federal organizations.

Forest Service crews will resume work on the roughly 1.2-mile stretch of river adjacent to the south end of Lake Tahoe Airport, and upriver to where the Upper Truckee crosses under U.S. Highway 50.

“The reason we do these projects comes down to water quality,” Forest Service spokeswoman Lisa Herron said.

The project includes restoration of a 120-acre floodplain and rerouting the existing river channel into a roughly 1.2-mile new channel by October.

“I think it’s great to see these projects going on,” Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokesman Tom Lotshaw said. “Cleaning up that stretch of river will be a big step. We applaud the work those agencies are doing.”

In addition to reducing fine sediment, the project is expected to provide a better aquatic habitat and support a healthier meadow ecosystem.

“It’s definitely going to improve wildlife habitat,” Mertens said, adding that it will also potentially improve boating and fishing conditions.

According to environmental documents for the project, the Upper Truckee watershed has been extensively modified since the 1860s. Numerous human activities have degraded the natural state of the river, including airport development and residential neighborhoods in the area. Farther downriver, artificial reconstruction of river channels for irrigation and the construction of the Tahoe Keys have also impacted watershed health. Projects on other sections are either ongoing or in planning.

RIVER ACCESS AND CLOSURES

Work on the current project will mean closing access to the river near Highway 50 starting Monday, July 11, through the project’s completion in October. Boaters will also have to portage a section of the river where workers will be installing a temporary bridge starting Friday, June 13. The temporary bridge will be roughly 5,000 feet downriver from the Highway 50 crossing. Boaters will be able to float under the bridge after it is completed until the river is closed for channel realignment work. The area will also be closed to pedestrians starting Monday, June 27.

FOREST SERVICE ADDRESSING MEADOW HEALTH

The Tahoe Basin Forest Service additionally announced this week that officials have approved a decision to restore six wildland meadows near Tahoe’s South Shore and Luther Pass.

“The meadows here in the Lake Tahoe Basin are facing challenges from past land uses and from climate change,” Tahoe Basin Forest Service supervisor Jeff Marsolais said. “Restoration of these meadows will help provide a significant ecological benefit to the Lake Tahoe Watershed.”

Baldwin, Benwood, Freel, Hellhole, Meiss and Start Meadows were each selected for restoration primarily because of the encroachment of conifer trees that negatively impact meadow health.

“Each of these meadows is in varying state of need,” regional Forest Service associate ecologist Shana Gross said. “The meadows are exponentially important for biodiversity and different habitats. Every meadow has a very different degree of encroachment.”

Plans for each of the meadows will be assessed this year with potential restoration efforts to begin in 2017.


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