By Meghan Christie, Intern

Preserving and protecting the watershed is surprisingly multifaceted.

Prosser Creek Reservoir

Part science: we assess and monitor the geology, hydrology, biology, and botany of each project.

Part management: we align agencies, consultants, contractors, and volunteers to get the job done.

Part funding: we find the grants, cost-sharing, and donations needed to finance each effort.

Part education: we tell locals, visitors, and water-users about our stressed and fragile ecosystem.

In order to focus on the hydrology of an individual meadow, stream reach, or forest stand, we need a broad understanding of the entire watershed’s hydrology.

This is the first of an occasional series on the hydrology of the Truckee River watershed. We’re going to start the series by describing some of the human-controlled parts of the Truckee River.

So we begin at the source – Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe’s only outlet is the Truckee River, and flows into the Truckee are controlled by the Tahoe Dam. The end of the Truckee River – the terminus – is Pyramid Lake in Northern Nevada. Just in California, there are seven dams affecting the flows of the Truckee River – Lake Tahoe, Donner Lake, Martis Creek, Prosser Creek, Independence Lake, Boca Reservoir, and Stampede Reservoir. They are operated by a variety of agencies, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.

Where the Truckee River runs across the California-Nevada stateline, the gauge at Farad measures the flow of the river. An average of 561,800 acre-feet of water flows past this gauge each year, enough to cover the entire city of San Francisco with 19 feet of water annually!  The flow past the gauge is largely made up of surface water. Of that total surface water, about 30% comes from Lake Tahoe, about 40% from the other six reservoirs, and the remaining 30% comes from unregulated (not dammed) tributaries.

In California, these human-controlled parts of the Truckee River are important for habitat and recreation – and in Nevada they are important for water supply and irrigation. The Truckee River Watershed Council facilitates negotiations, through the Truckee River Basin Water Group, to optimize dam releases for both water rights holders, and the health of the fish and our overall watershed.

In one of the next articles, we will describe some of the natural hydrology of the Truckee River and how our projects are designed to restore natural hydrology.

What questions do you have about the Truckee River watershed?
We would love to hear them!
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