My concern for the Truckee River grew over the years. It started with picking up trash and supporting better water quality. I helped create the "living river"plan with other citizens on the Community Flood Coalition; a plan to reduce flood impacts to infrastructure through river restoration and protection of the floodplain. I understand how critical the Truckee River is to the environment – and economy – of our entire region. I'm hoping that through these pages we can all understand our connection to the Truckee River and why we need to protect it.
The timing between rainfall events stresses plants throughout the region. The decrease in moisture leads to more intense fires and dried up vegetation needed for wildlife and agriculture alike.
The research was led by University of Arizona climate scientist Fangyue Zhang. The reduction in drought busting rainfall across the southwest is consistent with climate models forecasting decreased moisture as the overall atmosphere warms due to human-caused greenhouse gas increases.
“Human activity is driving climate change.” said Colm Sweeney of NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory this Wednesday according to an article in the USA Today which continued: “…the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere is now higher than it has been in at least 3.6 million years.”
Droughts appear to be lasting longer as the active winter pattern of Pacific storms shift north more frequently. This year in California and western Nevada, only one significant storm in January upped the percentage of the meager snowpack. Ultimately, the snowpack topped out around 68% for the Tahoe-Truckee River by April 1, but runoff will be less than 40% of the average due to the extremely dry soils throughout the Sierra and Nevada.
The National Weather Service forecast model shows the flow of the Truckee River at Floriston, CA peaking by April 27. The extremely dry soils in the Truckee River watershed at both Lake Tahoe and the Truckee Basin are contributing to the lower runoff as well as the below average snowpack this year and last year.
The actual peak in river flows could be earlier if the weather remains warmer than expected or be later if cooler and stormier weather comes in. The 10 day forecast doesn’t appear to offer much in the way of precipitation through the first part of April, however. The Carson and Walker Rivers are also expected to have peak flows early.
Currently, the snowpack is melting fast and earlier than would be indicated by historical data. With an early melting of the snow, rivers and streams will likely be well below their average flow into the first part of the summer. The Truckee River, due to upstream storage in reservoirs and Lake Tahoe, will have summer flows while the Carson and Walker Rivers will likely be dry in early summer in many locations.
It’s easy to miss Derby Dam on your drive east on I-80. Look to your right when the “Derby Dam” exit sign appears and you’ll see an earthen berm and concrete spillway and some of the dam’s control structures. The dam is off limits to the public.
But this diversion dam on the Truckee River brought with it a cascade of negative environmental and social effects by not only stopping all fish migration upstream to their spawning grounds but setting in motion a plunging water level at Pyramid Lake and diverting the flows of the Truckee River through a canal to another basin to create new farms in the desert. The Congressional act that created the diversion dam and canal ushered in a era of damming rivers across the west to the detriment of fish and wildlife and, too often, the Native Americans whose livelihoods depended on the rivers and lakes both on and surrounding their reservations. Today, there is the promise of a “fix” with the construction of a fish screen and fish passage at the dam to provide fish access to the Truckee River’s spawning areas from Pyramid Lake all the way to Lake Tahoe.
The Newlands Project: Promise of irrigation ignored Native Americans
The diversion dam was the first of five irrigation projects authorized after passage of legislation sponsored by Nevada Senator Francis Newlands and built by the newly minted Reclamation Service now renamed the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau). Completed in 1905, the Newlands Project named after the legislation’s namesake, consisted primarily of Derby Dam connected to a 31 mile long diversion canal – the Truckee Canal.†
Together the structures set in motion the dessication of Winnemucca Lake east of Pyramid Lake, an 80 foot drop in water level of Pyramid, the extirpation of the native Lahontan cutthroat trout in Pyramid Lake in the 1940’s, and near extinction of the Cui-ui fish that the Pyramid Lake Paiute People relied on for food for thousands of years and symbolized their cultural identity. Cui-ui are endemic to Pyramid Lake and migrate up the Truckee River to reproduce. The Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) became a threatened species and the Cui-ui endangered under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe together with others who wanted to see the restoration of the LCT to Pyramid brought another strain of LCT to Pyramid Lake from a population found on the Summit Lake Reservation in northern Nevada. The fish had to be raised in hatcheries on the Pyramid Lake Reservation because they didn’t have access to spawning areas in the Truckee River any longer.
† Lahontan Dam was built later and completed in 1917 and allowed more diversions from the Truckee River for storage.
More recently the original native strain of Pyramid Lake Lahontan cutthroat trout has been reintroduced into Pyramid Lake. The Cui-ui are successfully spawning using water releases from upstream reservoirs during its spring spawning season. Fish hatcheries operate at Numana and Sutcliffe on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation for the propagation of both species.
Truckee River Operating Agreement and Water Quality Agreement …
… between the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and upstream users have lead to better management of the Truckee River to the benefit of both fish species through improved river flows and water quality. However, Derby Dam and the Truckee Canal remain a blockage to restoring the trout which for millennia migrated the 120 miles from Pyramid Lake up the Truckee River to Lake Tahoe every year to spawn a new generation of fish. The Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe never gave up on restoring their fishery dependent on the flows of the Truckee River.
Now, the Bureau and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) are nearing completion on a nearly $24 million fish-passage project at Derby Dam and the Truckee Canal to help the annual spawning migration of the Lahontan cutthroat trout.
Fish Passage Construction completion slated for Fall 2020
Slated to be completed this fall, constructed fish screens in a “bypass canal longer than a football field” will keep fish from becoming trapped in the canal. An AP article appearing in the Nevada Appealexplained, “The bypass canal will include an 80-foot-wide, 390-foot-long horizontal fish screen — actually a metal plate with slots that pushes water down through the water system while sending the fish and other debris through the side channel”. The article quotes Jody Holzworth, deputy regional director of the USFWS, saying “This day is 100 years in the making. The fish screen will allow this iconic species to travel beyond Derby Dam, from Pyramid lake to their spawning grounds, for the first time in more than a century.”
Dan Mosley, executive director of Pyramid Lake Fisheries for the PLPT, said the people of the tribe have a long history of fighting for the fish which “are really important in our stories and culture.”
Soon it should be possible for the Lahontan cutthroat trout to pass the diversion dam at Derby and have access to the Truckee River all the way to Lake Tahoe. We wish them a safe journey.
Conservation and drought management ranked high by 90% of respondents to TMWA’s (Truckee Meadows Water Authority) survey of topics of importance to be addressed in the 2020-2040 TMWA Plan 5 year update. And, as before, TMWA talks generally about conservation but has no definitive goals and no new actions to achieve water efficiency to reduce per capita demand for its customers.
TMWA’s update, like the previous plan, doesn’t look to water efficiency instead calling for “enhanced conservation” by its customers only during drought. TMWA’s “Enhanced conservation” asks customers to reduce water use by 10% during level “2” to “4” droughts for between 3 months to a maximum of 5 months. In a level 1 drought or non-drought, TMWA’s plan update calls for “standard conservation”. But standard conservation offers no incentives, strategies or goals to reduce per person water use and appears to rely exclusively on an even-odd address, 3 days per week outdoor watering. TMWA has no plan to implement programs to help its customers be more water efficient over the next 20 years of the plan during all conditions. Hardly forward looking for a desert community with less than 7″ average annual precipitation, long, hot, dry summers, and rising temperatures year-after-year.
This year Reno saw just 3.81 inches of precipitation in the form of rain and snow since October 1, 2019 – over 10 months. And, Reno’s summer temperatures are hot and likely for overall average annual temperature to approach or even top those of the past. Indeed, we live in a desert and need to be efficient and conserve the little water the region has to support people and the environment.
A Chart in TMWA’s plan update shows that for the past five years water use in its service area has been right around 150 gallons per person per day (GPD). That’s more than many other western cities including Las Vegas where customer water use has declined to 120 GPD. And, Las Vegas expects to continue to lower the GPD through its water efficiency programs. TMWA should be doing the same to lower its need for expensive engineering solutions and new groundwater sources.
Too often water runs down the gutter from over-watering and inefficient or broken outdoor sprinkler systems. Once water is running down the gutter it will eventually end back up in the Truckee River with contaminants of all kinds – discarded waste and oil being common. Water waste becomes more common with ineffective incentives for customers to conserve. People-unfriendly, grass-fronted roads in business districts send water spraying into adjacent streets. These water wasteful spaces offer little to the public and could and should be replaced with appropriate water conserving landscapes, instead. With proper water efficiency incentives adopted, TMWA’s plan update could encourage appropriate low-water landscaping that offers more interesting plantings that offer more shade and function. TMWA needs a plan update that identifies implementing better options for customers to save water and lower overall demand.
The 2020-2040 TMWA Plan update doesn’t contain any new initiatives or changes to its water pricing structure. While TMWA’s website promotes the plan as an call to action, the plan update contains no new direction regarding water use.
Of the customer insights collected so far, the top concerns are related to two topics: population growth and extreme climate variation. TMWA’s approach to these issues are woven throughout this plan.
TMWA, however, continues its past approach of drilling wells, diverting more water, and pumping water underground just like its previous plan. Other cities have consistently seen the error in this approach and have found customer friendly ways to reduce demand and delay or eliminate the need for expensive new water infrastructure. Further, TMWA’s own projections show that its approach will lead to shortages under climate change scenarios. Nevertheless, the plan essentially ignores these results saying that the problem will only occur in-the-future and outside of the planning horizon. Such an approach lacks credibility and puts the entire plan in doubt.
Plastic water-filled bottles are everywhere. They line grocery and convenience store isles and wait for you at checkout stands. From ski hills to ocean beaches to executive board rooms, people haul around their no-calorie elixir wrapped in plastic. The stats tell us just how addicted we are to our bottled ounces of the essential liquid in shiny clear plastic containers wrapped helpfully with plastic brand labels – DaSani™, Aquafina™, Fiji™, Evian™, Nestle™, etc. According to a recent analysis in Consumer Reports (https://www.consumerreports.org), water bottled in plastic containers is the #1 consumer beverage – 42 gallons per average American a year or 336 sixteen ounce bottles – at an annual consumer cost of $31 billion and growing.
Why would the average American spend hundreds of dollars for water when it is available at the tap for just pennies? Many people say it is convenience, but 40% of Americans believe that water bottled in plastic is “safer than tap” according to CR. Some of that concern comes from the nationally reported lead-contamination in Flint, Michigan in 2014. Flint, however, is an extreme exception and not the rule. Ninety percent of Americans get their water from municipal suppliers who provide their customers with exceptionally high quality water mandated by drinking water standards set by Federal and state laws. Those municipal suppliers (like TMWA and the Las Vegas Valley Water District) “have no reported health-based quality violations” according to the EPA as reported by CR.
That’s good news for bottled water buyers because 64% of the water sold in plastic containers comes from municipal water systems across the country. Drinking water standards for municipal supply are part of federal law and you can check the quality of your municipal supplied water in annual reports*. Drinking your 8 glasses of clean water a day needn’t include creating plastic waste. Drinking your 8 glasses of clean water a day needn’t include creating plastic waste.
The US Food and Drug Administration does inspect bottling facilities and requires quality testing by the company selling water in plastic containers. However, the water in plastic doesn’t have water quality standards in federal law and the FDA isn’t required to conduct its own water quality tests. And, there are concerns about the plastic container itself potentially contaminating the water – either prior to sale or afterward once purchased by the consumer.
Its such a waste …
What happens to all those plastic bottles emptied of their water? Unlike an aluminum can that can be recycled indefinitely into another can, plastic water bottles cannot be recycled into more plastic water bottles. Rather, recycled plastic bottles are mostly used for some other “down-cycle” product – like a plastic bag or pen¹. Inevitably, though, nearly all plastic ends up in a land fill (a better outcome) or finds its way into a water body near you. As consumers, we need to kick the plastic water bottle habit to help minimize the impact on the environment from plastic waste.
Plastic bottles and other plastic too often ends up in our rivers, lakes and oceans. Plastic gradually breaks down, but never goes away. Instead, plastic breaks up into pieces that get smaller and smaller over time eventually forming micro plastics that can be ingested by fish and other wildlife (humans too!). The problems created by discarded plastic containers extends beyond the ocean and also threatens water quality in lakes and rivers. Micro plastic has been found in Lake Tahoe2.
So, what is a consumer trying to cut down on plastic going to land fills – or worse to the rivers and lakes and oceans – to do? Yup, buy a non-plastic container for water that you can fill from the tap and use that. Keep one in your car, your pack, and for your bike. Cutting out plastic water bottles makes both environmental and economic sense.