SPARKS — Another stretch of the lower Truckee River east of Reno will return to its more natural path in coming weeks when the fifth leg of a 7-year-old restoration effort is completed.
Crews have been carving a new, meandering river channel near where the Truckee flows past the Tracy power plant along Interstate 80. By the end of the month, the water will be diverted from the existing channel to flow along its new, more natural course.
It’s part of a $6 million project to restore 10 miles of the waters that make their way down the Sierra Nevada from Lake Tahoe.
“It’s becoming what it should be, what it used to be,” Mickey Hazelwood, Truckee River project manager for the Nature Conservancy, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Over the years, the government and private landowners up and down the river altered what was a natural, sinuous river system to a straight-shot channel. Many of the changes were made decades ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to reduce flooding in the Reno-Sparks area.
The result was a human-caused alteration of the river ecosystem that proved detrimental to the landscape, fish and wildlife.
Projects such as the one now wrapping up at the Tracy site are designed to restore natural channel meanders to the river, allow its waters to spread naturally over the flood plain during floods and return the area to a state beneficial to natural vegetation and the animals that make the river home.
The first leg of the project, completed in 2006, rehabilitated the river at the historic McCarran Ranch where U.S. Sen. Patrick McCarran, D-Nev., was raised. Other restoration projects were completed at Lockwood, at the Mustang Ranch site of Nevada’s first legalized brothel and at the 102 Ranch near USA Parkway.
Once the river is flowing in its new channel and other work is wrapped up near Tracy, efforts will focus on planting trees, shrubs and other natural vegetation. That will include replanting more than 1,000 17- to 20-foot cottonwood trees that will be moved from where they are now growing at the restored McCarran Ranch.
“Now it’s the McCarran nursery,” Hazelwood said.
The Truckee flows more than 100 miles between Lake Tahoe and its terminus at Pyramid Lake, about 30 miles northeast of Reno.