Restoration begins on the Truckee River
Conservationists hope to soon start river restoration work at three new locations on the lower Truckee River, while a historic ranch where the river is returned to a natural state will soon be opened to the public.
Both developments are part of an ongoing, multimillion-dollar effort to improve a stretch of river damaged through well-intentioned but environmentally harmful human alterations decades ago, and modern-day changes are already showing signs of paying off.
“We’re always trying to figure out what more can be done. More is better,” said Mickey Hazelwood, the Conservancy’s Truckee River project director.
Since 2001, the Conservancy has completed four major river restoration projects on the lower Truckee east of Sparks, first at the historic McCarran Ranch where one of Nevada’s iconic figures, U.S. Sen. Patrick McCarran, D-Nev., was raised on the river’s banks. That $7 million project, completed in 2006, served as a model for three others to follow.
Those projects included the $5.8 million restoration of an old trailer park site at Lockwood and the $6 million restoration of the river at the 102 Ranch at Interstate 80 and USA Parkway 14 miles east of Sparks.
Between them, the Mustang Ranch — the place where Joe Conforte opend Nevada’s first legal brothel in 1972 — was restored in 2009 at a cost of $7.8 million.
Each of the projects involved returning meanders to the river in places the federal government straightened the river channel for flood control purposes more than 40 years ago, separating the river from its natural floodplain. Wetlands were returned to the landscape, native vegetation planted and habitat for fish and wildlife re-established.
At a combined cost exceeding $26 million, the projects restored 9 miles of disturbed river, with treated land in various stages of recovery.
The Conservancy is seeking federal funding for three more projects to restore pockets of untreated areas. If they are completed as planned, about 12 miles of river between Lockwood and USA Parkway will have be restored in all.
Once work is finished along the targeted stretch, attention can be turned toward other restoration needs downstream of USA Parkway toward Wadsworth, Hazelwood said.
“That could really allow us to pick our heads up and look further downstream,” Hazelwood said. “We feel really good about what we’ve accomplished but there’s a lot more that needs to be done. That lower river has really been used and abused.”
The first of the new projects, possibly starting construction this summer, would treat 210 acres owned by NV Energy at the utility’s Tracy power plant. At a cost of $4.6 million, it would involve returning channel meanders and habitat improvements similar to previous projects.
Other work, costing less than $1 million, is planned on the west end of the McCarran Ranch. Restoration of 36 acres is planned at a location about 2 miles upstream from previous restoration activities on the ranch.
The Conservancy also is in negotiations with landowners to purchase 43 acres immediately west of the Mustang Ranch with the idea of expanding restoration further upstream in that area.
As plans are cast for future restoration efforts, the first of past efforts are nearing important milestone. On May 5, the Conservancy plans to open the McCarran Ranch to the public for hiking and biking, picnicking, fishing and other recreational activities.
The long-anticipated opening was complicated for years by access issues, with the installation of a new bridge last October providing important progress toward that goal, said Patti Bakker, project manager.
Folks at last will be able to fully enjoy a place where native plants, fish and wildlife are flourishing in a restored landscape.
“People will be able to get out there and feel that sense of place,” Bakker said. “To us, that’s a really important piece of the restoration work.”
WHAT'S NEXT: TRUCKEE RIVER
WHAT'S NEXT: MCCARRAN RANCH
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.