Trout Creek biggest stream project in basin |

Trout Creek biggest stream project in basin

Andy Bourelle

Portions of Trout Creek do not zigzag as a natural stream should. A part between Pioneer Trail to Martin Avenue is more like a pipeline, a gun barrel, shooting sediment downstream and into the increasingly murky Lake Tahoe.

The city of South Lake Tahoe, California Tahoe Conservancy and other agencies are trying to stop that. Last month workers started working on the $2.9 million Trout Creek Wildlife Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Project, the largest stream restoration project officials have ever started in the Tahoe Basin.

Officials have been planning the project for two years, and work on the two-mile segment won’t be completed until fall 2001. Still, crews already are making headway.

“We want to get this as close as possible to a natural, undisturbed creek running through this meadow,” said Matt Kiesse, a consultant working on the project.

Around the turn of the century, cows grazed in the meadow around Trout Creek. And during the Comstock period an old railroad line ran through the area. The creek was diverted and straightened. With the human-made alterations, the channel now is too deep and too steep. Now water – carrying sediment – flows too quickly through the area.

In a naturally existing condition, Trout Creek should overflow its banks every year to year and a half. When that happens, sediment would be scattered and deposited throughout the meadow. The system functions to not only keep large amounts of sediment from flowing into the lake but also to keep the meadow itself healthy.

Trout Creek now rarely overflows. During what should be flood events, the water’s power remains concentrated within its channel and causes massive erosion of the banks.

Workers are creating a new channel next to the creek that will meander through two miles of meadow, sloping only a quarter of a foot every mile. Its capacity will be smaller, allowing it to overflow more naturally.

“It’s the largest stream restoration project that’s been implemented in the basin. It’s huge compared to anything else we’ve done,” said Rick Robinson, wildlife project coordinator for the Conservancy. “It’s just one more piece of the puzzle of what we’re trying to accomplish here (at Tahoe).”

The project will do more than help Tahoe’s declining clarity. Robinson said the new stream bed will help keep the area’s ecosystem in balance. The meadow will have healthier plants; more fish will populate the creek.

“It all comes together and balances as a complete ecosystem. Some of our objectives are for water quality; others are for wildlife and fisheries,” Robinson said. “That’s what we’re focusing on here – the function. We want it to function as a natural system.”

The land on which the project is located belongs primarily to the city, and agencies such as the Conservancy, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board are helping to fund the work.

Workers are constructing the creek channel and vegetating it. In upcoming years, they will divert water into the new channel but pump it out and release it back into the meadow. That way in the fall of 2001, when the water is permanently diverted, the new stream bed will already act much like a natural stream should.

The current channel will be filled with dirt from the newly constructed one to keep the water from returning to the deeper, larger and less-natural channel.

“Within weeks it will develop into a functioning system. It happens almost instantly,” Robinson said.

“We can’t do it all,” he added. “We’re trying to point the stream back in the right direction.”

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