The goals of the planning effort are to create a common vision for the river, provide for comprehensive planning, a forum for collaboration & communication, coordinated action, and funding.
The 9 stakeholder groups tackle issues that are often interrelated and multi-jurisdictional. Dealing with river health, public safety, and water quality, for example, involves at a minimum, understanding how to solve problems ranging from encampments along the River to increasing biodiversity of riparian species and finding funding to accomplish them.
Outcomes from the 9 issue areas go next to the core planning team which will be meeting in February 2016. OnStrategy will produce a draft plan based on stakeholder input by late spring 2016. Public open house meetings on the “One Truckee River” plan are now scheduled for mid to late summer 2016.
Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful, the City of Reno, and the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation are sponsoring a cleanup of Reno’s Virginia Lake Park. Volunteers will be supplied with trash bags and tools. The cleanup lasts until noon; volunteers should meet at 9 AM at the west side of the park in the children’s play area. Contact jaime AT ktmb.org for more information.
The City of Reno, Washoe County, and the Volunteers of America are providing 20 residents of the homeless shelters in the Truckee Meadows employment to help clean up the Truckee River along the Truckee River Trail through Reno and Sparks. The Reno Gazette-Journal reported today on the program which will provide training to the homeless shelter residents to help them achieve future employment and afford housing for themselves and their families.
Councilwoman Neoma Jardon was quoted in a news release on the City of Reno website saying, “[t]he public has expected something creative and different from us, so I’m glad that we have committed funding to this. It’s not only about instilling pride in the workers from a good hard-day’s work, but also cleaning up the river for the community.” Councilwoman Jardon was instrumental in coming up with the idea.
The Truckee River is a community asset – a treasure, really – for residents and visitors alike. Many of us spend weekends and as much free time we can get along its banks or in its water. For many residents and visitors the Truckee River Trail through both Reno and Sparks is the best way to spend a lunch hour or a day enjoying the river and absorbing a bit of nature running through our urban home. Truckee Meadows residents embraced the Truckee River and enabled the cities and county to create a trail that spans the valley from west to east right along the river. Recently, river projects at Reno’s downtown Whitewater Park and Spark’s Rock Park enhance river function and provide very popular recreation for kayakers, rafters, and swimmers. A downtown amphitheater at Wingfield Park provides a venue for performances and events enjoyed by thousands. The Trail is continuous from Ivan Sack Park in Reno all the way to Vista in Sparks.
Truckee River Trail winds along the Truckee River from Ivan Sack park in Reno to Vista in Sparks (Click to expand; map ends at McCarran Blvd)
We love the Truckee River
Most of us love the river and enjoy the river and depend on the river. We want community leaders to focus more on the river – orient buildings and activities to face the river to offer inviting spaces for all of us to experience and enhance our daily lives. And, we want the community to protect the river environment by planting and protecting the trees that line its shores, improve water quality by reducing and filtering storm runoff, improve recreational opportunities and public access for pedestrian and bicyclers, enhance fish passage by removing barriers and providing more space for the river, and create more open space along the river to protect the flood plain where it is still available as envisioned in the Community Flood Plan of 2005. More can and should be done to protect the Truckee Meadow’s most important natural feature.
Graffiti, trash, and vandalism … OH MY …
Take a walk or ride on the Truckee River Trail today. Depending on precisely where you end up along the Trail what you’ll be confronted with trash and vandalism and graffiti that not only detracts from the experience, but also keeps a good number of people from ever returning because they see the Trail itself as a threatening environment given to gang scrawls and homeless encampments. Reno, Sparks and Washoe County do try to maintain the Trail and clean up the mess left by taggers and gangs and vandals but it is an unrelenting problem requiring continual input of money and personnel. The homeless issue is a complex problem for our entire society, but it doesn’t mean that we should ignore the impact it has on the river Trail or environment. How do city and county leaders and all of us in the Truckee Meadows better address the continual damage to the Trail so that it becomes the asset it should be?
Over the spring and summer I took some photos along the Trail which helps to document the blight that confronts the Truckee River Trail walker or biker both in Sparks and Reno. To fix some of these problems will take a greater effort than has been available in the past. Are our leaders and community up to the challenge.
On the same day that the RGJ published the lead story about Governor Sandoval’s executive order creating the “Nevada Drought Forum”, the Governor also featured prominently in, “A top water user, Sandoval taking steps to cut back” as one of the top 150 household water users in the Truckee Meadows topping out at over 1,000,000 gallons in one year. The Governor immediately said that he was moving to reduce water use in his Reno residence. A local landscape company employee took some of the blame for the excessive use saying, “It was watering way more than it should have.” The Governor’s Reno residence includes an outdoor swimming pool and large areas of landscaping according to the RGJ.
Water runs off over-irrigated lawn in Reno
The Governor isn’t alone in using more water than necessary (a million gallons of water would produce 6 cuttings of alfalfa on an acre of land). Although I doubt that any of my neighbors are in the million gallon water user group that the Governor was, some are using plenty more than they need to. I say that because a several properties in my northwest neighborhood regularly allow water to flow down the street and into the gutter. That isn’t water they need – obviously.
Cutting back on water use means first that we recognize when we are wasting water. TMWA does have some suggestions on how to cut back, but do we need remedial training so that we can understand what excessive water use and waste actually looks like? I think that for many water use is just not on their radar screen – too many other priorities.
Truckee River depleted of its flow at the last water intake for the TMWA
Most of us think that if water is coming out of the tap or spraying out of the sprinkler, no problem, right? It can be difficult to associate the water we use in our houses and on our yards with the river – the Truckee River – whence it came. But every gallon you use in the Truckee Meadows (and many who live in the north valleys, too) comes from the Truckee River.
Galena Creek at Washoe County Galena Creek Park, Spring 2014
What about groundwater wells, you say? Ditto. Our groundwater wells in the Truckee Meadows are primarily filled from the river or its tributaries. Water flows from the western mountains through natural creeks and streams and ditches carry water around the entire valley from the Truckee River providing a way for streams to recharge the groundwater. In the Truckee Meadows itself, our annual precipitation at the airport averages only 7″ a year while evaporation is about 40″. With so little rainfall in the valley, it is the river and its tributaries that mostly fill our groundwater wells. Prior to explosive population growth and the ill-advised 1960’s era flood project that destroyed the Vista Marsh on the Truckee, the water table was very high. Flood irrigation of meadows and pastures through out the “Truckee Meadows” helped to keep it that way. It is safe to say that we are completely dependent on the Truckee River for our water here.
The RGJ article on the largest water users says, “the average household uses 124,000 gallons per year”. The 2010 census says that the average Washoe County household has about 3.2 persons making the daily water use about 106 gallons per person. Other cities in the west and southwest use significantly less water with better outdoor landscape ordinances, with Tucson, AZ averaging about 70 gallons per person per day. If Washoe County and the cities of Reno and Sparks adopted landscape ordinances and incentives to encourage water conservation we could reduce our use by more than 33% in wet and drought years. So instead of using 20 billion* gallons of water per year, households could reduce that to 13.4 billion gallons saving almost 7 billion gallons per year.
*I made this calculation: According an estimate of the 2013 census figures for Washoe County there were 163,198 households. So, using the average water use statistic quoted in the RGJ article (which most likely came from TMWA) that would be 124,000 gallons/household X 163,198 households = 20,236,552,000 gallons of water. Let’s say 20 billion gallons of water (billion with a “b”) or 61,400 acre-feet. (The number doesn’t include commercial or industrial water users.)
What can we do to save that water? The list is long, but key among them is to reduce the amount of turf in your yard beginning with the front lawn. Businesses and housing developments line streets and common areas with strips of turf that few use, but are big water users (and wasters because it is difficult to water narrow strips of turf).
Strip lawns are big water users with runoff from the narrow strips common.
Could that be a accomplished to save water in cities and towns throughout Nevada? We will have to wait to see what the Governor’s Drought Forum comes up with on a state-wide basis by November (Click here to see the Executive order). The Forum is top heavy in bureaucrats and includes the huge water agency from Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Water Authority. On the positive side, it also includes scientists from UNR and DRI. Who else? That remains to be seen since the Governor is yet to announce any citizens interested in conserving water resources statewide.
The Governor’s Drought Forum is expected to produce a list of recommendations and a “Drought Summit” with stakeholders in September of this year. I’m sure that cutbacks in domestic use will be proposed. How will the Drought Forum address the severe drought in the Truckee River? Statewide? We all need to be concerned if the forum proposes to create more “storage” in the form of additional reservoirs on already stressed rivers and streams in the region. Storage can be effective when there is occasional drought, but more reservoirs will likely be ineffective in long-term drought. In the western climate existing reservoirs are already taking a big chunk out of available water through evaporation. Mountain reservoirs in our region evaporate at least 3 acre-feet of water per acre of exposed surface.
A better choice for “saving” water is to recognize first that we have allocated too much. This becomes especially apparent during long-term droughts. “Water rights” that Truckee Meadows industrial and commercial, residential, and agricultural users technically have don’t actually exist this year. Agricultural users will probably get less than 1/5th of their “water rights”. TMWA users are being asked to cut back “at least 10%”, but unstated is that TMWA isn’t actually using all of its “water rights” and that much of those “water rights” couldn’t be delivered because there is physically no water available. Emphasizing the point that water here is over allocated is that most irrigation ditches will likely be dry by June. Last year they were dry by August. Hopefully, this isn’t a trend.
Truckee River in downtown Reno
Water here is always in short supply. Western Nevada is a desert that happens to have a miraculous river delivered to us from California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains to our west. We are indeed fortunate to have this river that sustains us. Will we be up to the task to keep it flowing?