Upper Truckee restoration discussed | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Upper Truckee restoration discussed

About 20 people showed up to listen to an environmental engineer explain what work could be done to restore a five-mile section of the Upper Truckee River.

The work would cost more than $10 million and create about 7,000 feet of meandering channel for the river southeast of Lake Tahoe Airport. But most of the restoration work would not involve moving the river. It would involve stabilizing existing banks and lowering flood plains to create healthier vegetation and better fisheries.

The Monday night meeting was a final chance for residents and officials involved in the project to review an environmental study that will be presented to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation at the end of January.

The Tahoe Resource Conservation District, which is coordinating the restoration project, will then begin working on the environmental impact report. It is needed to obtain grant money to fund the project. It could be years before construction begins, experts said.

The Upper Truckee, the largest watershed at the Lake Tahoe Basin, is about 15 miles long and flows north into Lake Tahoe. Years of cattle grazing and development have decreased the ability of the river to filter out sediment. Experts say sediment flowing into Tahoe is one reason its clear waters are clouding.

Residents who attended the meeting expressed concern that the restoration work would create mosquito habitat. Others asked if the project is worth doing if it would only provide new channel for a portion of the five-mile section of the river, said Kim Melody, watershed coordinator at Tahoe Resource Conservation District.

“I think we looked at the range of things you can do,” said Mitchell Swanson, of Swanson Hydrology and Geomorphology in Santa Cruz, the firm which compiled the environmental study.

“A really true restoration would involve modifying land uses, but we have to live with the constraints of the airport and a landowner who wants to continue grazing,” Swanson said.

There are 837 acres within the five-mile stretch of river. The Ledbetter family owns a 367-acre meadow, the California Tahoe Conservancy owns 235 acres (formerly known as the Sunset Ranch), and South Lake Tahoe owns the 235 remaining acres of land. The section of river that would be moved runs through city and Conservancy land.

Swanson said even though the restoration work is somewhat limited by the mixture of land ownership, it would still be beneficial and provide a starting point for future work.

“There would be significant improvement in the river,” he said. “This plan does a lot of reducing fine sediment input and improves fisheries habitat and riparian habitat.”

The five-mile section of the Upper Truckee under scrutiny runs from Elks Club Bridge to the Carrows Restaurant at Highway 50.

Tahoe Resource Conservation District also plans to coordinate an environmental study on a seven-mile section of the Upper Truckee that flows from Christmas Valley to Elks Club Road. That study is expected to be delivered in January 2004.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com

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