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Truckee River flows through new channel east of Sparks

By Jeff DeLong • jdelong@rgj.com • December 3, 2009

On Wednesday, crews diverted the river's waters from the human-built, straight-shot "ditch" where they have flowed for decades into a new, more natural meandering channel mirroring nature's design.

"We're actually forcing it over today," said Mickey Hazelwood, Truckee River project director for the Nature Conservancy, which is heading up the restoration project.

"We're trying to make the Truckee what it once was," Hazelwood said.

Since July, heavy equipment has been at work along a more than milelong section of the river near the former site of the Mustang Ranch, Nevada's first licensed bordello.

Much of the lower Truckee was straightened and channelized decades ago during federal flood control projects or for agriculture. The result was a degraded river system vulnerable to erosion and unsuitable for fish and wildlife.

The restored stretch of river includes natural meanders where flood waters can slow and spread naturally over the floodplain, nourishing the land and improving fish and wildlife habitat.

Diversion of the river into its new channel is a pivotal point for a $7.8 million project that will continue for several years as native vegetation is nurtured by experts.

"It's always a milestone event getting the flows into that new, sinuous channel," Hazelwood said. "That's a river, not a ditch. It looks more like the Truckee River used to look."

The Mustang restoration, along with similar improvements completed, under way or planned along the lower Truckee, are welcome and needed, said Dan Mosley, water quality manager for the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

"They could do this all the way down to Pyramid Lake, and it would be real good, especially for the fish," Mosley said.

The Mustang restoration follows similar projects completed downstream at the historic McCarran Ranch and further down river at the 102 Ranch. A similar project targeted the site of an old mobile home park in Lockwood, just east of Sparks.

Nearly 9 miles of the lower Truckee have been restored, Hazelwood said. Experts are in the process of figuring out how much more work needs to be done along a river where 50 miles have been "highly impacted" by past human actions, Hazelwood said.

"We need to do more," he said. "I can tell you we have a lot more work to do to call this a long-term success."

(due to the new policy by RGJ of pulling internet articles into archives within two weeks of printing, this article is shown in entirety.)

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