Category Archives: Recreate

Truckee River Trail – scenic and troubled

The Truckee River Trail through Reno attracts residents and visitors alike. The river environment can be a source of peace and rejuvenation. It is more than just a water supply for the cities; it is a true recreational resource providing a scenic trail throughout urban Reno and Sparks all along the clear, flowing waters of the Truckee River. The community has invested to make this trail a treasure for all.

Trouble in river city

The Truckee River Trail is also the default location for many of the area’s homeless and graffiti taggers. Many of us who advocated for creating and expanding the recreational trail along the river to connect the urban environment to the natural environment of the Truckee River never foresaw the extent to which the trail would become a literal semi-permanent campground with ever increasing graffiti tagging. People I’ve spoken to tell me they avoid the Truckee River trail downriver of Idlewild Park due to the urban troubles intruding into and taking over the natural environment with trash and camps and tagging. The encampments, when “cleared out” quickly return in the same or new locations. Some trash often remains scattered across the banks of the river – bottles, wrappers, bags, blankets, baskets, etc. – regardless whether the site is occupied by the campers or not.

Encampment along Truckee River Trail
Encampment along Truckee River Trail (Jan’18)

I’m revisiting the issue of encampments, trash and graffiti again in the hope that we can change our approach to keeping the river clean and stop pollution from the encampments. Right today there is not much reduction in the encampments, trash and graffiti that I observed and wrote about 3 years ago. Below are scenes along the Truckee River from downtown Reno to Greg Street taken in late September of last year. [I’ve digitally edited the graffiti so that it is not identifiable; this reduces the “in your face” aspect of the tags, but prevents advertising it.]

Truckee River Trail needs help

As the City Council’s and County Commissioner’s try to deal with the issue of homelessness, the Truckee River Trail impacts continue to mount. The river environment becomes an unfortunate camping ground and restroom for hundreds of people seeking temporary or permanent shelter along it. The issues that surround homelessness likely leads to much of the trash found along the river banks. The lack of regular pickup of trash and cleaning up discarded items of clothing, food containers, makeshift shelters also encourages graffiti taggers to add to the atmosphere of neglect and abandonment. An Insufficient number and desperately inadequate restroom facilities throughout the urban trail portion contribute to the pollution and inhumane conditions.

Can our Council’s and Commissioner’s focus their attention to the daily negative impacts to the Truckee River – throughout its urban reach – by funding new staff for clean up efforts? How about if the community funded the installation of more restrooms? And clean and refresh those restrooms 3 or more times per day and keep them open at least from 6AM to 10PM everyday?

The Truckee River is the community’s lifeline for our water supply but so much more. It deserves more attention from our elected leaders to fund clean up crews on a daily basis – not just when a homeless “clear out” is in the works.

Quitting the bottled water habit (save $ and the planet)

Cascade of plastic water-filled bottles

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. 

TMWA's Chalk Bluff Water Treatment Facility can treat 90 million gallons of water a day.
TMWA’s Chalk Bluff Water Treatment Facility can treat 90 million gallons of water a day.

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.

*TMWA customers: https://tmwa.com/article/2019-water-quality-report-now-available/

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.

Microplastics-UC-Santa-Barbara-Image
Microplastics-UC-Santa-Barbara-Image

¹ https://www.headstuff.org/topical/science/plastic-bottle-oceans/

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.

2 https://www.latimes.com/environment/story/2019-08-26/lake-tahoe-microplastic-pollution-detected

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. 

Check out PBS’s “The Plastic Problem”: https://tinyurl.com/sf8eghk

Snow drought in an average year of precipitation for Truckee River

NRCS 4-24-2018 - Total Precipitation vs. Snow Water Equivalent for water year to date

The Truckee River watershed saw more rain than snow this year. So, this year appears to continue the trend of at least the last decade as rain replaces snow – especially at lower elevations. The maps show just how significant the effect is as we approach the end of the first month of spring. Many sites in the Truckee River basin (including the Tahoe basin) are reporting 101% of the longterm average for precipitation. The picture is different for snow water equivalent, however. Snow water equivalent (the amount of water in the snow pack) is almost or well below the longterm average for this date for sites at lower elevations. You have to go to the highest elevation sites to see average snow water equivalent conditions.

In the graphic below, the blue dots on the left represent sites where total precipitation is 101% and the white sites represent 100% of the long-term average. On the right the 3 sites (between 6400′-7700′) in red have 0% of snow water left; the orange sites have 50% of snow water left compared to the long-term average. Only the site at Big Meadow (8235′) shows 101% of snow water left and one site at Heavenly Valley (8500′) shows 100% of snow water left – both high elevation sites. Click on the graphic to see full size. Or check out the site yourself here.

NRCS 4-24-2018 - Total Precipitation vs. Snow Water Equivalent for water year to date

NRCS 4-24-2018 – Total Precipitation vs. Snow Water Equivalent for water year to date

If the trend continues as expected, there will be very little snow left to melt in the late spring and early summer. When snow disappears earlier, natural stream flow of tributaries and the Truckee River itself decrease. Less natural stream flow often results in additional releases from reservoirs or increased ground water pumping because of our long, dry summers.  Ultimately, it will negatively affect recreation and fish and wildlife that depend on water in the Truckee River.

Tahoe rises almost to its rim

Truckee River at 4,000 CFS December 10, 2016 during Sierra rains.

The “atmospheric river” resulted in rain throughout the central Sierra and the Reno area for most of Saturday, Dec 10, 2016. Rain was heavy in the mountains with snow confined to higher elevations. Consequently, runoff from the storm quickly entered the Truckee River below Lake Tahoe and sent flows approaching 5,000 cubic-feet-per-second through Reno and Sparks. That flow rate amounts to 2.2 million gallons of water per hour. The Truckee River hasn’t seen this rate of flow since 2012.

Graphic from USGS Lake Tahoe Gauge (Red annotations are mine)

Graphic from USGS Lake Tahoe Gauge (Red annotations are mine)

Lake Tahoe as of today is just a little more than 1/2″ from its rim. Water from Lake Tahoe begins to flow into the Truckee River once its elevation reaches 6,223 feet. Lake Tahoe dropped below its rim this summer after rising above its rim in the spring, but has been mostly below its rim since October 2014. (Click graph for full size)

The National Weather Service in Reno is forecasting more rain should begin Tuesday. It could be an exciting week for the Truckee River if we get a repeat of mountain rains. High flows are important to move sediment and create new places for trees, grasses and shrubs to grow and create habitat for fish and wildlife. Floods are damaging to infrastructure built in the flood plain of the river, but flooding helps keep rivers healthy. Keeping buildings out of the floodplain and away from the river is the best approach to protecting our property and limits damage from flooding without expensive flood “control” structures – flood walls, levees, and dams.

Now that the rain has ended (hopefully, more snow and rain is on the way), the river is dropping rapidly. At 10 pm on Sunday, Dec 11 the flow rate through Reno is less than 1,500 CFS.

Truckee River at 4,000 CFS December 10, 2016 during Sierra rains.

Truckee River in downtown Reno just above the Arlington Street bridge looking west at Whitewater Park.

Truckee River at 4,000 CFS December 10, 2016 during Sierra rains.

Truckee River at 4,000 CFS December 10, 2016 during Sierra rains.

Truckee River at about 200 CFS on December 4, 2016 during dry weather.

Truckee River at about 200 CFS on December 4, 2016 during dry weather.

Rain with more coming

Boreal Ridge Ski webcam screen capture on morning of 10/28/16

Lake Tahoe once again is seeing a bounce from a wet and warm weather system. As of the morning on Friday, October 28 Tahoe’s elevation has risen about 0.1 feet or just about 1.2 inches. If the rain continues, Tahoe will continue to rise as rain falls directly on the lake as well as additional inflow from streams.

Lake Tahoe Elevation October 28, 2016

Lake Tahoe Elevation October 28, 2016

Tahoe is a big lake so a 1.2″ rise represents a significant amount of water.  Rain should continue on and off today in the mountains and Truckee Meadows and then showers and rain again on Sunday.  The National Weather Service reports that we could set a precipitation record for October in Reno given previous wet storms and this series of storms. Snow levels at this point are high with rain on most of the mountain passes. By Sunday, the National Weather Service says snow levels will lower to around the Lake Tahoe elevation.

Below are captures of webcams from Boreal Ridge Ski and Heavenly Valley Ski areas around 8:38 am on Friday 10/28.  They show a sodden landscape – but free of snow at this point.

Boreal Ridge Ski webcam screen capture on morning of 10/28/16

Boreal Ridge Ski webcam screen capture on morning of 10/28/16. Boreal is on the crest of the Sierra Nevada and is just west of the divide between the Truckee River and the South Yuba River.

Heavenly Valley Ski webcam screen capture on morning of 10/28/16

Heavenly Valley Ski webcam screen capture on morning of 10/28/16. Southeast shore of Lake Tahoe from ski run above Stateline, NV.