Water bender

A new restoration site on the Truckee River

Martin Swinehart, outreach coordinator for the Nature Conservancy in Nevada, stands in front of the Truckee River at the McCarran Ranch project location.

Martin Swinehart, outreach coordinator for the Nature Conservancy in Nevada, stands in front of the Truckee River at the McCarran Ranch project location.


For more information on the Nature Conservancy's Truckee River restoration project, visit http://bit.ly/16tbwcK.

The Nature Conservancy will soon be breaking ground—and bending the river—on another restoration project on the Truckee River. This one is sandwiched between two of their earlier projects: McCarran Ranch and 102 Ranch.

What’s different about this project is that this new property is privately owned by NV Energy, making it the first private landowner to work with the Conservancy on a restoration project on the Truckee. Also, since it is located at the Tracy Power Plant, two ponds that are used for cooling will have to be secured. After its completion, there will be another mile of river and about 65 surrounding acres restored.

The current issue with the river here is that it was straightened and has very little life in or around it. When you look at it, you look down from a very high bank created by the increased speed of the current because of the straight path. Any greenery basically ends at the bank as well.

“Over the past 100 years, the river has been altered dramatically … so what we’re doing is restoring the processes, the flooding, to benefit the Truckee Meadows in two ways,” said Conservancy restoration specialist Chris Sega. “One, it allows the flood control project in Reno to do flood control mitigation in Reno by allowing that flood water to come to the lower river and to flood on these properties down here. And that has an additionally benefit in that these riparian ecosystems require flooding … and that creates habitats for fish, birds, and then recreation opportunities for people.”

But if you go to the McCarran Ranch project, just a short drive up the 80 West, you can see a river that looks quite different than the one at the Tracy plant.

My first impression was that it just looks more natural and more appealing than the unrestored sections of the river Swinehart was referencing. The river has bends as it meanders its way over in-stream riffles (rock sections that churn up the water, oxygenating it for the fish) and it’s much wider with thick vegetation on either side. In fact, at this property, the vegetation on the banks has grown almost too thick to get through to the river. This section of the river looked like it had gotten that way naturally, without help from the Conservancy.

“That was done by rechannelizing the river to return the curves to the river that were taken out when it was straightened in the ’60s,” Swinehart said. “We’ve come in and pulled back the banks and raised the river bed by adding rock, and what that did is raised the water table and allowed for all the natural regeneration of willow, cottonwoods, that kind of thing. And a good rule of thumb when you’re looking around here is anything that doesn’t look like an old cottonwood was probably planted in the last 10 years.”

The Mustang Ranch project is an example of a kind of middle ground between the not-yet-started Tracy project and the several-years-post-completion McCarran Ranch project. You can see the bends and some backwater wetlands created. The vegetation is still a little sparse with some patches of green throughout signaling that they were planted, making it more obvious that the site has been worked on.