WASHOE COUNTY, Nev. (KOLO) -- This winter’s flooding didn’t damage restoration efforts along an 11-mile stretch of the Lower Truckee River between Lockwood and USA Parkway. The Nature Conservancy has been working in the area for a decade to return the river to its natural state.
Rivers don't naturally flow straight; they twist and turn and meander. The Lower Truckee, however, was straightened out in the 1960s as a way to prevent flooding upstream in Reno and Sparks.
"By straightening the river, it really disconnected it from the floodplain so the natural Cottonwood regeneration that we are seeing around us here was not able to happen," said Lori Leonard with the Nature Conservancy.
The straightening of the river allowed the Truckee’s waters to move quicker. This increased erosion and allowed the river to become channelized. Instead of having gradual banks that allowed for a floodplain, the river had steep walls. When the floodplain disappeared, 90% of the floodplain forest and 70% of the birds disappeared with it.
"So that was why it was kinda determined to be important," Leonard said of the Truckee River restoration project.
Over the past decade, the nature conservancy has been changing the shape of the river. In some places the group has moved the river, installed rocks, created eddies or planted stream-side vegetation. All of this has been done to bring the river closer to its natural state.
"A lot of the banks again were very high, so all of that soil had to be removed so the river could come up out gradually," said Leonard
The restoration got its first test this past winter during the flood and subsequent high water. The Nature Conservancy was worried some of its work would be eroded away, but when the waters receded, everything remained in place.
"Basically they have worked as we had hoped; as the water levels came up it went up and out into the flood plain and really slowed down," said Leonard.
Adding to the excitement, the flood plain is now covered in vegetation and the area is starting to look like a natural river again.
"I think in seeing it improve and seeing sort of the beauty of it. It makes people care about it and maybe determine that it is a place worth protecting,” said Leonard.