Restoration of Truckee River Near Tracy; More Natural, Safer

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Time was the Truckee River meandered through the canyon east of Sparks, Cottonwoods and willows shaded its banks, wildlife thrived and when it flooded it spread over its banks into the flood plain renewing the landscape.

Then we went to work on it straightening it, confining it. The intention may have improvement, but it didn't turn out that way.

After many decades of human interference, much of the lower Truckee looks like the mile long stretch near Tracy resembling an agricultural canal more than a river. And that's not good for anyone including wildlife.

"In a healthy river you expect to see pools, riffles and runs. Any fisherman will tell you that's a healthy river system," says Mickey Hazelwood, of the Nature Conservancy. "They know where the fish will be in there. This flat water as far as aquatic habitat is highly unproductive."

But the clock is being turned back on the lower Truckee.

Today the Nature Conservancy and NV Energy were showing off the next step at a site just upstream from the Tracy Power Station.

The mile of waterway that runs through the power company's property is about to be turned back to the river.

Thousands of cubic yards of dirt will be moved rebuilding the flood plain, returning the river to a more natural channel and incidentally taking the power out of future floods.

Now you might be saying "OK, I get it, They're restoring a nice riverscape downstream.We all saw what what the Truckee can do when it floods where we live in the New Year's Flood of 1997. How does this help me?"

In some ways it won't directly. That will take new flood walls and especially new bridges in downtown Reno, but those measures will send even more water here where there's a growing industrial park and a power station we all rely on.

NV Energy officials were touting their commitment to the environment and their long term partnership with the Nature Conservancy, but there's a practical side to their participation.

The project sits just upstream from that power plant.

"We have a cooling pond," says NV Energy Vice President for External Strategy Mary Simmons. "We have other facilities we have nearby. We have gas lines and other things."

In fact, erosion is already threatening some of that infrastructure.

The $6 million dollar project is just beginning. They'll be moving earth shortly, then comes revegetation.

In three or four years, it should look like one of the earlier projects a few miles upstream at the McCarran Ranch.

There you'll see a natural healthy river, which by the way in the last flooding in 2005, did its job.