Little Truckee River

Little Truckee River Working Group Annual Meeting

About 50 people crowded into the conference room at the Sierraville Ranger District to compare progress notes and share data on projects in the Little Truckee watershed.  The meeting featured presentations on the Perazzo Meadows plug and pond system, the Little Truckee bridge swap, watershed data collection, and a Lohanton Cutthroat Trout feasibility study.


This reporter had attended similar meetings in the past, and the sense in the room was different this year.  There seemed to be less of a sense of religious fervor, and more a sense of scientists practicing their craft and sharing information, even if the information isn’t completely favorable.  To the bystander it seemed that the effort had matured generally, and some were letting doubt creep in.


The theme of the meeting was about the need for more data on the watershed.  Perazzo Meadows is the key project in the watershed, and currently includes Upper and Middle Perazzo meadows.  Partners on the Perazzo Meadows project briefly outlined the work, and presented some preliminary data on water flows, subsurface water retention, and duration of flows.  Readers likely remember that the meadows of Perazzo, when studied by the Forest Service, showed what could be a degraded watershed, with fewer vertebrates than expected, with indications that the stream once meandered more than currently, and indications that wet areas were once broader. The area was once on the Henness Pass road between the Sierra gold deposits and the Comstock, and more heavily trafficked than presently. There is the suggestion that perhaps a dairy in the area might have changed the flow of the creek, encouraging the recent more straight descent, instead of a preferred, and perhaps more historical, meandering flow.  There are other possibilities, since streams and their products are complex and difficult to read accurately.  Whatever the cause, restoring the water holding capability of the meadows by restoring the meandering flow was the goal.  The pond and plug methodology seems to be the most efficient process for the lowest price.  The project scoops gravel from the stream bed (pond) and deposits it in a broad bench (plug) to slow the stream and allow it to saturate the soil.  The water table rises, and flow rates stabilize instead of rushing down in spring, and the diversity of species of all kinds increases.  Eventually, the stream channels will stabilize, and Perazzo project overseer Randy Westmoreland points out that it will take time before we know what the ultimate benefits of the project will be.

District Ranger Quentin Youngblood, in his usual direct manner of speech, discussed the primary goal of the project, which was to re-introduce sinuosity to the stream.   The project has lengthened the course of the stream, primarily by re-introducing water into historical channels.  He said the implied benefits of storing water for later release instead of building dams is “over-sold”.   He reported that preliminary data indicate that the project shorted Sierra Valley Mutual Water on flows, that the plug and pond method might be impeding flows.  He said that water rights and shares are “extremely important” to the project, and said he was committed to holding further progress on the project until more clear data is available. 


Bryan Davey, representing Sierra County Roads, presented information on the project, orchestrated by Bill Copren (landowner, member of the Sierra County Natural Resources Committee {I think}, member of Trout Unlimited, Sierra County Historical Society and participant on numerous current and historical boards) to extend the benefit of changing a county bridge.

The project involves replacing a bridge across the Little Truckee with a wider span bridge, as the current bridge narrows the flow, speeding and focusing it and causing severe erosion.  The longer bridge will be two lanes, and will increase the span by about 30 feet, reducing the erosion. 

The benefits of the project are maximized because the old bridge will be taken up the road and placed across a low water crossing.  Low water crossings, where vehicles literally “drive through the crick” encourage erosion, and could potentially (though maybe not really) represent an opportunity for aquatic invasive species to spread, since water washes the bottoms of boat trailers. 

In any case, placing the old bridge across the low water crossing makes the road more useful and reduces sediment.  The project, because it provided “double benefit” and because the Forest Service contributed the NEPA report necessary on the bridge placement, was boosted to the top of the grant list.  Contributors include the U.S.G.S., Forest Service, Prop 84/IRWMP funds and the feds, who chipped in a million and a half bucks.


Easily one of the most interesting presentations came from a person who claimed to have little to share.  Ken Cawley is doing a data survey to determine the feasibility of situating Lahonten Cutthroat Trout in to the Cold Stream/Little Truckee area.  Though his project needs a lot of data, he shared the organization of the project with the group.  When completed, it will be a thorough examination of the current, and probable, likelihood of a sustainable population of salmonid in the watershed.  Currently, he says, there are not as many trout as there should be, though other native fish, like dace, are present.  He also notes the lack of meadowland hardwoods, like cottonwood and aspen.  These provide shade and large woody debris. 


The meeting included lunch and poster presenters.  In past years Feather River Trout Unlimited had organized the event; this year they provided food but the watershed coordinator Regine Miller of the local watershed council provided organization. 

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