Thursday, September 4, 2008

Restoring the Upper Truckee River

unedited july 08 tahoe mt. news

By Kathryn Reed

Laurel Ames remembers playing at the Lake Tahoe Golf Course and in Washoe Meadows State Park before either existed.
She shakes her head at what the land has become.
On a tour of that portion of the Upper Truckee River, Ames, who was once executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, asks if getting rid of the golf course is a possibility.
“Yes,” says Cyndie Walck, engineering geologist with the California State Parks.
Walck is giving a tour of the river area that is being considered for restoration. The League arranged two outings, one on June 29 that had about 16 people and the other on June 30 with more than 30 people.
This section of the Upper Truckee, which is the largest of the 63 tributaries into Lake Tahoe, is one of five areas that is proposed for restoration. The river is of such concern because is brings more sediment into the Lake than any other stream.
In the 1940s and 1950s, meanders that flowed into the Truckee were cutoff by bulldozers. Logs were floated down the river during the Comstock Era in the 1800s. Grazing replaced logging.
“When you cut off all the meanders you are going from A to B in a shorter distance. This increases the slope,” Walck said. “The ability to erode is related to the slope and depth. As it erodes it becomes a greater slope so you have a greater depth.”
This portion of the river used to flood its banks about every two years. Now it might be ten years. Flooding is a good thing environmentally.
“Meadows are the lungs, the filter systems for these rivers,” Walck said.
Flooding means the meadow is getting saturated, that the ground water is replenished, that riparian habitat is abundant and that the eco-system is in check.
“It’s pretty sad what we’ve done to it,” Ames said of the river.
She said restoring the river is the most important environmental issue facing the entire Lake Tahoe Basin.

Options for the links

An environmental impact report and environmental impact statement are being prepared, with a draft likely in early 2009. Five alternatives are proposed.
One alternative is to do nothing. Walck said this is a real possibility because the golf course is such a revenue generator for the parks system – about $950,000 a year. It ranks between Hearst Castle and Morro Bay. The latter is home to the only other golf course on state park land.
EDAW, an international consulting firm with an office in Stateline, is conducting an economic study to see what the alternatives’ impacts would be to the economy.
In was somewhat by accident the park system acquired Lake Tahoe Golf Course.
The front nine were built in 1959, the back nine in 1964. The owners wanted to build a housing development called Lake Country Estates in the 1970s. TRPA sued. A decade later the regulatory agency prevailed.
Part of the settlement was the state parks system take over the links. The course took on its current name then. American Golf Corp. became the concessionaire in 1984 and still has those rights.
Another alternative is to do away with the golf course.
Another would reduce it to nine holes.
Another would keep things as they are, but to do a full geomorphic restoration.
The fifth alternative is to move part of the course to the other side of the river and design it more links-style. Hole 6 would go across the river. Nine holes would be constructed in Washoe Meadow State Park. Hole 16 would bring golfers back to the east side of the river. Holes 8 and 9 would essentially become holes 17 and 18.
Jeff Stange, general manager of the golf course, said his patrons would like the course to stay as it is.
“The way it’s laid out now it is a really good golf course,” Stange said by phone. “People are used to this layout. They are afraid of what the new layout will look like.”
He said in May and October it’s 70 percent locals on the course. During the summer tourists outnumber locals 60 to 40 percent.
American Golf Corp.’s contract expires in April 2009. Lange said internal discussions are ongoing about what to do about the future.
“We want to do what is right for the Lake and the golf community as a whole,” Stange said. “State parks is doing a good job of reviewing every option.”
He said if the course is redesigned, that it could be world class. If it stays as is, upgrades could be made to use less water for irrigation. As it stands now, little fertilizer is used. Monitoring wells are in place to make sure none leaches into the river.
During hearings in September-October 2006 the public was not thrilled with moving the course into the state park and closer to homes in the Country Club Drive area.
Ruth, who didn’t want to give her last name, was on the tour June 30. The Elk Grove woman owns a cabin with her Bay Area sister near where the course may be relocated. She was on the outing to see how it would affect her.
Phil Stevenson, who lives off North Upper Truckee, said, “This looks like a canal to me.” He thinks restoring the river to its original curviness makes sense.

More restoration

Other projects along the Upper Truckee River are in various stages. Even though the environmental improvement program has 25 active projects along the river, the bulk of the work is broken down into five areas.
Downstream from the golf course is the Sunset Stables project. The League is giving a tour of that project site on July 16 from 5:30-7pm. With it being a joint project between the California Tahoe Conservancy and U.S. Forest Service, someone from CTC will lead the tour. For information, call Raina Patrocinio of the League at (530) 541-5388 or email her at
Depending on how the process goes, improvement could begin on that stretch next year. It would be a three-year project.
Starting this month is work on the city owned portion of the river at Lake Tahoe Airport. This will tie into the stream environmental zone work being done as the runway is rebuilt.
Earlier this month the city was waiting for permits from the state Department of Fish & Game and the Army Corps of Engineers before it could start on the nearly $6.5 million project. The council accepted the funding at its July 1 meeting. Most of the money is from the Conservancy and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
“Basically we are making the river meander more than it currently does. Right now it is fairly straight,” said Jennifer Quickel, assistant engineer with the city. “We are adding habitat structures to allow for better fish passage.”
About 43,000 cubic-yards of fill will be excavated this year to create a new channel. About 4,000 linear feet of channel will be restored. The three-year project will affect about 28 acres.
The CTC board will tour the project site this month.
In between the airport-river section and Cove East is private land. The Conservancy is working with the land owner for easement rights to do work in there.
Even though a portion of Cove East wetlands was brought back to life near the mouth of the river in the past few years, CTC wants to do more. The environmental review process for that project is under way, while construction could start in 2011.
“We want to do something to the river to get it into a more natural meander. We want to get it to overbank more often like it historically would have,” said Adam Lewandowski, CTC wildlife program coordinator.
Many environmental projects in the basin address just one issue, like water quality. Proponents of the multiple Upper Truckee River restoration projects point to them being multifaceted.
“Rather than doing a single resource approach we are trying to cover a lot of things at once. In that way it is pretty efficient,” Lewandowski said. Water quality, vegetation and wildlife are some of the areas that will be addressed in all river projects.

No comments: