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Land buy around California lake to ease Truckee Meadows droughts

The Nature Conservancy’s $15 million purchase of 2,325 acres of forest land in the Sierra Nevada from NV Energy will preserve clean drinking water for northern Nevada and help protect one of the only two lakes in the world with wild native populations of the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout,.

Independence Lake, California | May 11, 2010

The purchase announced Tuesday of thousands of acres around Independence Lake by The Nature Conservancy will protect a critical source of water for Reno and Sparks in times of drought, a member of organization said.

The Nature Conservancy’s $15 million purchase of 2,325 acres of forest land in the Sierra Nevada from NV Energy also will preserve one of the only two lakes in the world with indigenous populations of the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, said Chris Fichtel, Independence Lake project manger for The Nature Conservancy.

“It’s a beautiful lake and, obviously, this will prevent development that could negatively affect water quality and could impact the native fish that live in the lake and the public’s ability to enjoy the property,” he said.

North of Lake Tahoe and described as “one of the most pristine alpine lakes west of the Rockies,” Independence Lake is a popular destination for hikers and anglers, Fichtel said.

Over the years, it also has been eyed by developers as the possible site for a luxury resort or a private estate.

“The other thing that could have become a real issue if it had been purchased by a private landowner is that the forest is in the same condition as a lot of forests in the area,” Fichtel said. “It is prone to catastrophic wildfires.”

He said NV Energy, which has owned the land around the lake since 1937, started working last year with the Conservancy to thin and restore the forest.

Mike Sweeney, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in California, called the purchase of the land one of the most important conservation milestones in the Sierra Nevada.

“Generations to come will enjoy the benefits of our actions here today,” he said.

The lake bottom is the property of the state of California, but the Truckee Meadows Water Authority owns the water, said Mark Foree, TMWA general manager.

Independence Lake holds a maximum 17,000 acre-feet, which can be tapped in times of severe drought to serve Reno and Sparks, he said.

TMWA also owns half the water in Donner Lake and has a contract to use water from the federally owned Boca and Stampede reservoirs. But Foree said Independence Lake “is probably the biggest of the bunch as far as drought reserves.”

He said having The Nature Conservancy overseeing the lake and the thousands of surrounding acres will ensure the high quality of the lake’s waters.

“This is good news for us and good news for the community,” Foree said.

The purchase money came from several sources, including federal funds, the state of California, the Northern Sierra Partnership and The Sierra Nevada Conservancy. NV Energy will provide $1.3 million to help ongoing stewardship of the lake.

The Independence Lake Preserve will be open for public access and jointly managed by The Nature Conservancy and the Truckee Donner Land Trust.

Fichtel said the Conservancy intends to continue allowing the public day use of the area and will discuss allowing camping in the next year or two.

“If we do allow camping, it will be walk-in only," he said.

Reno-Gazette Journal
By Lenita Powers

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

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