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The Truckee River — leave it alone
by Ira Hansen
Oct 18, 2008 | 706 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The beautiful Truckee River, a natural treasure that is the lifeblood of our community, is to be remodeled once again. In case you missed it, a series of changes are in action or on the drawing boards, including the often-conflicting goals of flood control and “natural” restoration.

With the heavy snow and rain of the past few months the business community is busy pushing for flood control, without being very specific about how to accomplish that.

Downstream, the McCarran Ranch is now in the hands of the “Nature Conservancy,” which has all sorts of schemes planned to use the river as a sort of guinea pig for its theories on “pristine” habitat.

The actual channel of the Truckee River pretty much followed its natural course until the 1950s when the Army Corps of Engineers was brought in to do “flood control” following major spring flooding.

There is no magic way to stop flooding. Your options are limited: reservoirs to store extra water; deepening and widening the channel; dams; catch basins to temporarily hold the overflow. All of these options cause major changes. If you go down to the river near the Alamo Truck Stop you will still see the results of the 1950s work. The Truckee there is more of a deep ditch, no rapids, high muddy banks with little vegetation, rather an eyesore and not at all natural in look or function.

The Army also removed the “Vista Bluffs,” a rock outcropping that once acted as a natural dam on the Truckee near Vista Boulevard. Prior to its demolition the river in high flow years would back up behind it and the eastern Truckee Meadows would at times become a lake. Even when I was a kid the marshes that resulted from these periodic floods were all along Kleppe Lane, farm country then but now filled with warehouses.

Right across the river on the south side a natural island existed, a slight rise maybe 50 feet or so higher than the surrounding area, and the Indians must have camped there for many, many years for it was a famous spot for arrowhead collectors. Today someone has built a house right on top of it.

The Nature Conservancy, following a false premise, has begun planting groves of cottonwood trees at the McCarran Ranch in an effort to restore the alleged canopy of trees that once lined the river but has been “spoiled” by the evil white man.

Like so much of our warped views of the past, this one is also false. Fortunately for those seeking historical accuracy, in 1869 a photographer, following the railroad crews then making the famous continental railroad, took pictures of almost the entire Truckee River canyon, from the state line to Wadsworth.

The photos actually show the river as almost identical to today; a few more trees, but for the most part what you see today is very close to what was here in 1869, including the entire McCarran Ranch section. What the Nature Conservancy is trying to do is create a habitat that never existed, despite their claims of restoring the land to its “unspoiled” condition.

An example typical of their fantasy worldview is a statement from Michael Cameron, the director of this project. He stated here in the Tribune in a Dec. 18, 2004 article that since the 1960s 90 percent of the forest canopy has been lost. Such absurd claims go unchallenged since almost no one has a clue about the past.

For me, I like leaving things alone whenever possible. Whether it’s the Army or the Nature Conservancy, they can’t seem to avoid do-gooderism, perhaps well intentioned but often harmful in the long run. If we are dumb enough to build along well-known flood prone areas, why gripe about it when it happens? If businesses get flooded — including mine, only a stone’s throw from the river — why destroy the river to temporarily solve a problem created by our own shortsightedness?

Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks and owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing.
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