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Water Quality

Flood control to begin in Storey County

By Jeff DeLong • jdelong@rgj.com • June 17, 2009

The idea is to ensure planned flood-control improvements in the Reno-Sparks area don't raise the flood risk at Rainbow Bend in Storey County by sending more water downstream, officials said.

"We've got to build that protection, and we've got to do it on our own dime," said Naomi Duerr, director of the Truckee River Flood Project.

The $1.5 million project is one of several efforts being pursued by local government in advance of the $1.5 billion Truckee River Flood Project, largely federally funded. Another early project, construction of a $5.8 million levee and flood wall on the river just east of U.S. 395, should be finished this summer. The levee, the first structure to be built as part of the flood project, will protect a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Reno-Sparks Indian Colony land. Grading for Wal-Mart's access area started last week.

At Rainbow Bend, work involves building a half-mile-long walkway south of the river. The walkway, 18 inches to 2 feet high, could be completed this year and provide protection for the riverbank neighborhood, said Jay Aldean, deputy flood director. Subsequent work at Rainbow Bend in the larger federal project will include erection of a small flood wall, not visible from homes in the area, on the river's south bank.

Portions of the northern riverbank would be terraced to help floodwaters spread out during floods

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Whitewater park part of Rock Park renaissance

By Martina Beatty • mbeatty@rgj.com • June 7, 2009

Despite a steady rain, about 45 people wore coats and brought umbrellas to join public officials on Saturday to formally celebrate the opening of Sparks' new whitewater park on the Truckee River at Rock Park.

"This is another great day for Sparks," Mayor Geno Martini said. "Everybody talks about quality of life -- well, this improves our quality of life. It's a beautiful thing."

The 31-year-old Rock Park, on Rock Boulevard between Mill Street and Glendale Avenue, has had its ups and downs over the years, Washoe County Commissioner Robert Larkin told the crowd. "Rock Park went from a great park to a not so great park, to now a spectacular park," Larkin said.

Martini extended thanks to state senators Bill Raggio, R-Reno, Maurice Washington, R-Sparks and Randolph Townsend, R-Reno, whom Martini credited as instrumental in helping to secure funding via two state Senate bill appropriations for the $1.25 million project. "They really went to bat for us," Martini said.

He also noted that cooperation from the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority, which allowed use of its easement as a construction staging area, saved the city money.

When Reno's $1.5 million whitewater park was completed in 2003, tourism and city officials already were moving forward on a Sparks whitewater park. In 2004, Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority board member Glenn Carano said the Reno whitewater park was "the first phase of continuing down the river."

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Washoe water officials could ban toxic solvent

By Jeff DeLong • jdelong@rgj.com • February 17, 2009

Future efforts to control groundwater pollution from a toxic solvent, including a possible ban in Washoe County, will be discussed Thursday by the area's largest water purveyor.

Directors of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority will be updated on a program to deal with the spread of underground plumes of perchloroethylene, or PCE, a degreaser still used by many dry cleaners in the area.

"It is the single most important groundwater issue we face in this community. Are we doing everything that is appropriate to address it?" said Paul Miller, manager of operations and water quality for the utility. Miller said "all options are on the table," including a PCE ban similar to those enacted statewide in California and New Jersey.

The substance, linked to several types of cancer and other human health conditions after long-term exposure, started showing up in drinking water wells in the Truckee Meadows in the 1980s. Groundwater contamination was confirmed by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection in 1994.

Five of the water authority's groundwater wells are tainted by PCE, with "hits" of the substance found in a couple of others, Miller said. The utility is able to remove the substance from drinking water by costly treatment. Since 1995, 58,800 acre-feet of water, or 19.2 billion gallons, has been treated for PCE at a cost of about $17.5 million, said Chris Benedict, manager of a Washoe County program established in 1995 to deal with the situation.

Much of the problem relates to practices many years ago, when PCE was used to degrease auto parts and was often then dumped down the drain or on the ground. The toxic substance has migrated into the groundwater aquifer, with six plumes of contamination identified in the central Truckee Meadows.

Experts are now studying four particular "hot spots" of contamination -- downtown Sparks, Mill/Kietzke in Reno, Vassar/East Plumb in Reno and West Fourth Street in Reno.

As recently as 2001, officials found suspiciously high levels of PCE in the sewer system that officials suspected was caused by the deliberate and illegal discharge of solvents into the sewer by some dry cleaners. Once in a sewer, PCE can seep from the line and mix with groundwater.

Benedict said he doubts any deliberate discharges are still occurring but the substance continues to make its way into the sewers nonetheless. It only takes about two teaspoons of PCE to contaminate 1 million gallons of water, Benedict said.

"Is it more cost effective to treat the water or fix the problem?" Benedict asks. "I think the question becomes: Can we confidently say we can eliminate PCE releases into the environment? There's always the human element. We can't engineer that out."

There are alternatives to the use of PCE for dry cleaners, making a ban of the solvent a potentially reasonable move, Benedict said. He estimated that of about 40 dry cleaners in the Reno-Sparks area, the majority still use the chemical. Between four and six use alternative technology, he said.

"Something like a PCE ban might ultimately be a practical solution," Benedict said.

Such an action would come at a significant cost to the region's dry cleaning industry, said Kevin Leid, vice president of Bobby Page's Dry Cleaners & Shirt Laundry, which operates more than a dozen stores across the Truckee Meadows, in Carson City, Lake Tahoe, Gardnerville and Dayton.

"It would affect us pretty badly," Leid said, adding that he knows several out-of-state dry cleaner operators who will go out of business once California's phased ban of PCE is fully in place. "How far do you want to take it, and to what degree do you want to have an impact on business, especially now in a poor economy?" Leid said.

PCE is still by far the most effective dry-cleaning agent available, Leid said, adding that a ban would hurt the industry and the quality of cleaning available to customers. "The alternatives aren't really out there yet," Leid said. "(PCE) just works the best." Leid said his business uses an "air-tight, self-contained" system that prevents any release of PCE into the environment. "If it's properly handled, it's a clean process. It shouldn't be a problem," Leid said.

But Norm Davis, owner of the Peerless Cleaners and a "green" certified operation, said there are less toxic solvents that can be used. He uses Eco-Solv and said another popular alternative is DF-2000, an Exxon product.

"It all depends on perspective," Davis said. "If you go to Treehugger.com or the Greenpeace Web site, they pretty much say (the alternatives) are slightly better than (PCE)." But both are hydrocarbon- and petroleum-based, which the Green Cleaners Council does not list as "organic" or totally environment friendly.

The council evaluates recycling hangers, whether a cleaner uses recyclable bags, water use, electricity, delivery vehicles, alternative energy and pipe insulation.

In eight years of business, All Clean on site cleaners has not used PCE, said owner Lori Baier. "It's just so toxic, and I really don't want any of our customers around it," said Baier, who noted that her service cleans drapes, furniture and fabrics in clients homes with the Exxon product.

Mike Carrigan, the Sparks councilman who chairs the Truckee Meadows Water Authority board of directors, said the situation posed by PCE is troubling.

"Even with all the regulations, it's still a problem. Maybe it should be banned altogether," Carrigan said. But he doesn't want to take any action harming area businesses.

"I know (PCE) is bad, but we don't want to put dry cleaners out of business," Carrigan said. "We have to look at both sides."

Volunteers try to clean Storey County homeless camps

By Susan Voyles, Reno Gazzette-Journal
February 5, 2009

Where the Truckee River bike trail ends in east Sparks, homeless people follow a dirt road along the river, cross a railroad bridge and follow the historic Pioneer Trail to well-worn side trails to a dozen or so camps built high in the canyons in Storey County.

Cardwell, a retired Reno police lieutenant, Reno firefighter Pat Kleames and a few of their friends cleared five shopping carts and a pickup load of trash two weeks ago at the start of the trail.

But in a tour they led Wednesday, there were beer bottles, clothes and other trash scattered along the trail in the first canyon east of the Reno-Sparks sewer plant. A thick pile of tumbleweeds hid a tent at the mouth of the canyon. Up in that canyon, Jim, 56, a laid-off Reno casino cook, lives among rats at a makeshift home next to a sizeable garbage heap. Buckets of human excrement were 20 to 30 foot steps below the cabin in the steep ravine.

Inside, his shack was warm and tidy.

"I'm fixing it up as best I can," he said. "There's rats all over the place. I'm trying to get rid of them."

Jim said he's been watching the place for a week or so for a friend who had lived there a couple of years. If he has to move, he said he'd find other places along the Truckee River in Reno or Sparks. He doesn't like homeless shelters because he's afraid of getting sick.

Cardwell, a 35-year Reno police officer, said the outdoor camp was by far the worst he has seen.

"The trash is unbelievable," he said. Cardwell has asked Storey County officials to close the camps and is offering to lead a group of volunteers to clean up the mess.

"My sons came out here to hike these canyons," Kleames said. "No kids should be out here now."

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1,400 Acres in Northern Sierra Protected

1,400 Acres in Northern Sierra Protected, Published by YubaNet on Feb 3, 2009
By: Trust for Public Land

TRUCKEE, Calif. Feb. 2, 2009 - Three properties totaling almost 2,000 acres are being permanently protected in the northern Sierra Nevada and in Yuba County, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and Truckee Donner Land Trust (TDLT) announced today.

The properties were purchased from Siller Brothers, Inc, a Marysville-based family company on Dec. 30. Money to finance the purchases came from a variety of state funds and private partners, TPL and TLDT announced. Two of the properties are near the proposed Castle Peak Wilderness Area north of Donner Summit, and the third is next to the Daugherty Hills Wildlife Area in the Collins Lake Recreation Area of Yuba County. The two mountain properties are also high priorities for the Northern Sierra Partnership, formed in 2007 by TPL, TDLT, the Feather River Land Trust, Sierra Business Council and The Nature Conservancy to insure the environmental and economic sustainability of the northern Sierra.

David Sutton, director of TPL's Northern California program, said, "we are very pleased to have the funding support of California public agencies and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation to protect these wonderful places. The protection of these properties from possible second-home development is a big step toward protecting the integrity of the proposed Castle Peak Wilderness Area. It's also a major accomplishment for the Northern Sierra Partnership."

"The properties are off the charts in terms of their natural resources and truly iconic landscapes of the Northern Sierra. Any lover of the Sierra should be very pleased that they are now and forever protected," said Perry Norris, Executive Director of TDLT.

Perazzo Meadows, the largest property at 982 acres, is located northwest of Truckee and includes more than 2.5 miles of the Little Truckee River, a primary tributary in the Truckee River watershed and an important source of drinking water for the residents of Nevada. For the time being, the property will be owned by TDLT while trails and a parking area are constructed and restoration work is completed along the Little Truckee River. TDLT then plans to transfer ownership to the Tahoe National Forest.

TPL and TLDT also acquired a 400-acre property northwest of Castle Peak at the edge of Paradise Valley. The Pacific Crest Trail runs over a corner of the property, which was donated to the Tahoe National Forest, which owns land surrounding the parcel.

"We are very excited with the addition of these lands to the Tahoe National Forest. They are rich in wildlife and watershed values. Perazzo is an incredible high elevation meadow ecosystem and we hope to start a stream channel restoration project there this summer, which will encompass the new property in future years. Paradise Valley property is important from a wildlife connectivity standpoint involving a variety of species," stated Tom Quinn, Tahoe National Forest Supervisor.

For entire article, please visit website below.

USGS: Chemicals Remain in Public Drinking Water After Treatment

WASHINGTON, DC, December 9, 2008
Environmental News Service

Low levels of manufactured chemicals remain in public water supplies even after they have been treated in selected community water facilities across the country, according to new research conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and released today.

Water from nine selected rivers used as sources for public water systems was analyzed for the study. The populations in communities served by these water treatment plants vary from 3,000 to over a million. Testing sites include the White River in Indiana; Elm Fork Trinity River in Texas; Potomac River in Maryland; Neuse River in North Carolina; Chattahoochee River in Georgia; Running Gutter Brook in Massachusetts; Clackamas River in Oregon; Truckee River in Nevada; and Cache La Poudre in Colorado.

Scientists tested water samples for about 260 commonly used chemicals, including pesticides, solvents, gasoline hydrocarbons, personal care and household products, disinfection by-products, and manufacturing additives.

Low levels of about 130 of the chemicals were detected in streams and rivers before treatment in the source water at the public water facilities. Nearly two-thirds of those chemicals were also detected after treatment.

The most commonly detected chemicals in the source water were herbicides, disinfection by-products, and fragrances. Most of the chemicals found were at levels equivalent to one thimble of water in an Olympic-sized pool.

"Low level detection does not necessarily indicate a concern to human health, but rather indicates what types of chemicals we can expect to find in different areas of the country," said USGS lead scientist, Gregory Delzer.

"Recent scientific advances have given USGS scientists the analytical tools to detect a variety of contaminants in the environment at low concentrations; often 100 to 1,000 times lower than drinking-water standards and other human-health benchmarks," he explained. Delzer said that chemicals included in this study serve as indicators of the possible presence of a larger number of commonly used chemicals in rivers, streams, and drinking water.

Many of these chemicals are among those often found in ambient waters of 186 rivers and streams sampled by USGS since the early 1990s, and are correlated with the presence of upstream wastewater sources or upstream agricultural and urban land use. About 120 chemicals were not detected at all. Measured concentrations of chemicals detected in both source water and treated water were generally less than 0.1 part per billion.

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Runoff as resource instead of problem

Deborah K. Rich, SF Gate, Special to The SF Chronicle
Saturday, December 6, 2008

"The first year we were here, the water would just sheet down from the property higher up the slope, and this area would be mud. I couldn't even walk out here; it was just slosh and goop," she said.

Her home is near Occidental in Sonoma County, which can receive 60 inches of rain a year. "My husband and I were wondering what we were going to do, and how we were going to figure this out."

Davison met a teacher at her sons' school whose husband, Erik Ohlsen, had recently launched Permaculture Artisans, a landscape design and installation business.

Permaculture - the word plays on "permanent culture" and "permanent agriculture" - strives for sustainability by incorporating ecological cycles and principles into land altered for human use. Ohlsen took his first permaculture class in 1999 from Brock Dolman, who directs the Water Institute at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center.

Interaction with water in the landscape has become fundamental to Ohlsen's permaculture design practice.

"I was inspired by the concepts of water harvesting, ecological watershed management practices and erosion control and everything to do with water in Brock's course," Ohlsen said. The storm water that turned the property into muck could instead provide a foundation for the garden Davison wanted.

"The Davisons were clear that they wanted an ecological landscape that provided food for their family," Ohlsen said. "Water harvesting wasn't something they had foreknowledge of, but the way we design ecological gardens, water harvesting is always the first piece designed into the system."

Swales and berms
Ohlsen used a small excavator to build a series of parallel swales (a shallow ditch) and berms (a raised area adjacent to the swale) on contour (meaning that they lie across slope, their elevation remaining constant). He dug the first swale along the upper property line and the last where the property levels off.

Each swale is roughly 5 feet wide; its adjoining berm is 2 1/2 feet tall and 6 feet wide. A smaller berm lies across the end of each swale to prevent water from running out the end of the swale.

The swales and berms harvest rainwater by pooling and slowing the water on its downhill course, giving it time and space to soak into the soil. Rock-lined spillways connect the swales and allow water to flow from one to the next if the water pools in the swale more than 8 inches.

In the Davisons' loamy soil, all the rainwater will generally soak into the swale where it is caught, and water will spill from one swale to the next only during a very heavy rain. "We design for catastrophe," Ohlsen said of the oversize catchment systems. Encouraging Davison and her boys to work along with him, Ohlsen planted the berms with an eye toward both feeding the family and creating a self-sustaining ecosystem.

"We chose plants that provide multiple functions - for example, leguminous plants which can provide edible pods while, at the same time, fixing nitrogen in the soil and attracting beneficial insects and hummingbirds, which can then manage pests," Ohlsen said.

For entire article, please visit website.

Get out of the drain age, into the retain age

By Deborah K. Rich, SF Gate
Saturday, December 6, 2008

Embedded in both urban and suburban lot design is the "pave and pipe paradigm," according to Brock Dolman, director of the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center's Water Institute. It favors grading, piping and paving properties to drain away rainwater as quickly as possible.

But rapidly draining water off landscapes rather than allowing it the time and space to soak in causes a host of problems downstream and in the pipes. Culverts pour water into gullies and seasonal creeks, overloading and eroding the natural drainage area and rushing sediment into rivers, streams and estuaries, where it imperils fish.

Downspouts, gutters and sloping driveways conduct water into the storm water and sewer systems, which can dump raw sewage when overloaded. After we're finished draining our properties, we pay, increasingly dearly, to pipe water back into our homes and landscapes.

Dolman advocates replacing the "drain age" with a new "retain age," wherein we capture and store storm water for future use and resculpt yards and gardens to allow water to percolate into the ground.

To take a step into the retain age, consider harvesting rainwater from your roof and banking more water in your soil.

Harvesting roof water
Every inch of rainfall on 100 square feet of roof surface yields 55 to 60 gallons of water. For a 2,500-square-foot home, that translates to 1,375 to 1,500 gallons of water per inch of rain. This water can be caught and stored in above- or belowground cisterns and used for drinking, in-house nonpotable uses or irrigation, depending upon what filtration systems are installed and upon local regulations.

For entire article and web references on Water Harvesting, please go to website below.

Maintenance of Stormwater BMPs: Frequency, effort, and cost

November-December 2008 issue, The Stormwater Newsletter
By Joo-Hyon Kang, Peter T. Weiss, John S Gulliver, Bruce C. Wilson

Although many resources are available to aid in the design and construction of most structural stormwater best management practices (BMPs), few guides exist pertaining to their operation and maintenance. Historically, it seems as though a “build ’em and walk” approach has been commonplace. However, increasing focus upon mass balances, numeric goal setting, and total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) now requires that much more emphasis be placed upon BMP operation and maintenance for permitting and reporting requirements—for example, for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit program, and as a part of stormwater pollution prevention plan (SWPPP) reporting.

Typically, we think of structural stormwater BMP operation for optimizing (1) the removal of pollutants and (2) the reduction of runoff volumes/rates via the management of stormwater networks or treatment trains. BMP maintenance is the purposeful management of a BMP to maintain a desired level of performance and efficiency. Maintenance consists of short-term (routine or more frequent), long-term (non-routine or less frequent), and major (rare) actions (Figure 1).

Stormwater BMPs have a lifecycle from their creation (design and construction) through operative stages (functional or not) that is largely dictated by operation and maintenance (O&M) actions. As maintenance involves a significant amount of resources (personnel, equipment, materials, sediment disposal expense, etc.), the more we learn about BMP operation, the more likely we are to maintain optimal performance and improve cost efficiencies. The purpose of this article is to advance short- and long-term maintenance considerations to develop more realistic O&M plans. To do this, we have used a combination of a national literature search for maintenance costs coupled with a detailed municipal public works survey.

Minnesota BMP Maintenance Survey
The statewide survey of Minnesota Municipal Public Works managers to define maintenance needs and guidelines was conducted by the University of Minnesota and partly funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Previously, the University of Minnesota produced a manual, Assessment and Maintenance of Stormwater Best Management Practices, which includes source reduction and four levels of assessment (from visual to state-of-the-art monitoring). The manual is available online at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/stormwater/stormwater-research.html or wrc.umn.edu/outreach/stormwater/bmpassessment/index.html.

The specific goals of the survey were to identify and inventory stormwater BMP maintenance in Minnesota. Survey questionnaires focusing on the following questions were sent to 106 cities; we received 27 responses, for a slightly higher than 25% response rate.

How many BMPs are in your watershed?
How often are your BMPs inspected?
What is the average staff-hours spent per routine inspection/maintenance?
How complex is the maintenance of your BMPs?
Which factors most frequently cause the performance deterioration of your BMPs?
What are the costs for non-routine maintenance activities?

We attempted to make the survey as simple as possible, requesting information for typical response ranges of common BMPs. Although the number of respondents was relatively low, we believe that the results will help refine operation and maintenance needs.

Inspection Frequency and Staff-Hours. The required frequency of stormwater BMP maintenance actions and the associated required staff-hours are two key parameters that are necessary to reasonably budget and schedule inspection and maintenance. Frequency and staff-hours vary according to BMP design, climate conditions, accessibility of the BMP, and maintenance strategies of the BMP operators. As part of the survey, cities were asked to provide information regarding their frequency of routine maintenance actions for various kinds of BMPs.
For entire article, please see website.

Using Rain Gardens to Reduce Runoff: Slow it down, spread it out, soak it in!

Free webcast offered by EPA: December 3, 2008, 10-12 pst.
Likely will be offered at Reno City Hall, 8th floor: contact Lynell Garfield for more local web presentation info. at 334-3395.

Using Rain Gardens to Reduce Runoff:
Slow It Down, Spread It Out, Soak It In!
Wednesday, December 3, 2008: Two-hour audio Web broadcast

Eastern: 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Mountain: 11:00 am - 1:00 pm Central: 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Pacific: 10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Register for the Webcast
A Watershed Academy Webcast

Many communities across the country are struggling to address impacts from stormwater runoff due to increased development. Green or low impact development practices such as rain gardens can help manage runoff effectively as well as provide aesthetic benefits. Rain gardens can increase property values, add beauty and habitat, reduce a community’s carbon footprint, as well as provide important water quality benefits. Join us for this exciting Webcast to learn more about these natural solutions to water pollution. Our speakers will discuss the benefits of rain gardens and share their experiences with successful community rain garden programs.

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