Working to protect the Truckee River

Kayakers and paddleboarders enjoy the leisurely part of the adventure.


The Truckee River is a jewel that runs from Lake Tahoe through Truckee and Reno and ends in Pyramid Lake. The Truckee River is also a vital resource, providing drinking water to Northern Nevada along its journey; a resource that is protected by a network of government agencies, nonprofits and dedicated individuals. One of those stewards is Rivers for Change.

Through adventure, conservation and education, Rivers for Change works to connect individuals and communities to rivers, promote source-to-sea literacy and envision a world where people and communities are active stewards of river systems. The organization co-founded by Danielle Katz is made up of a passionate group of river enthusiasts dedicated to changing the way people think about and interact with water.

Bringing that interaction to a personal level, Rivers for Change recently organized the Source to Sea fundraiser to paddle from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake.

The numerous industrial facilities juxtaposed with the flowing river, eddies and desert landscape was unsettling.

The journey, which began at the Upper Truckee River on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore, continued across the lake and down the Truckee River from Tahoe City to its terminus in Pyramid Lake, Nev. Local kayakers, paddlers, representatives from nonprofit organizations and people who wanted to support the organization signed up for the trip, including 10 student ambassadors, some as young as 10 years old.

From left, Priya Hutner, Danielle Katz and Sue Norman prepare for their journey.

I was fortunate enough to join Katz and Sue Norman, project director of Rivers for Change, on the Lower Truckee River portion of the trip from Lockwood to U.S. Parkway. This part of the river takes its journey through the middle of a desert. The group met at the McCarran Ranch Preserve east of Reno. I’d borrowed gear from a friend and suited up. We were shuttled to our drop-in point. The day was initially cool with some cloud cover. All manner of craft were on hand for the trip: kayaks, paddleboards and two large rafts. Tahoe Whitewater Adventures led by co-owner Paul Miltner and river guide Clayton Coates donated their time to the event.

I jumped into Coates’ raft along with five other women. This portion of the Truckee is mostly mellow with some Class II rapids and lots of floating. As we paddled along, Cottonwood trees and willows stood tall along the banks the river. Fluffy white seeds floated around our raft and showered down on us. The sun came out and it was time to remove some layers. The river was serene; a red-shouldered hawk swooped by. In some areas we paddled there was beauty and there was garbage. The numerous industrial facilities juxtaposed with the flowing river, eddies and desert landscape was unsettling.

We stopped for lunch at the McCarran Ranch Preserve. A large flock of white pelicans flapped overhead. They breed on Anaho Island National Wildlife Refuge at Pyramid Lake, one of the largest nesting colonies in the western U.S.

Linda Nelson from the Nevada Division of Forestry spoke to the group about the importance of the river to the environment.

“Otters, mink, skunk and raccoons all use the river as do beavers. There an estimated 75,000 beavers in Nevada,” Nelson said, adding that coyote, bear, porcupine and bobcat also inhabit the area and use the river.

River guide Clayton Coates

Laurie Leonard spoke on behalf of the Nature Conservancy, which is working on restoration in this area of the river.

“In the 60s, there were efforts to deal with flooding that had unintended consequences in which 90 percent of the forest died and 70 percent of the bird population lost their habitat,” said Leonard.

The Conservancy has already restored 11 miles of the portion of the river we were paddling. They’ve planted native trees, grasses and shrubs and mitigating invasive species and erected mileage markers from Tahoe to Pyramid Lake for river awareness and emergency rescue.

Representatives for One Truckee River was also on hand to explain its management plan that will manage, protect and provide stewardship for the Truckee River across all jurisdictional boundaries.

Laine Christman, a resource economist for the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, discussed water conservation. The Truckee River is the water source for 400,000 people in Washoe County and 90 million gallons a day are used. I received an incredible amount of information on the trip.

We wrapped up and launched back into the water. Coates invited me to steer the raft. He gave me a quick lesson and I took the back seat. We headed into the rapids. The boat ended up heading down the flow backward my first time. Eventually, I had us right again. The water was considerably warmer than Tahoe and soon folks were dipping in. We rolled past “Tracy,” the enormous power plant humming away. The Pah Rah Range in the background rose above it kissing the sky.

As we neared the end of our journey, I reflected on my day on the river and the parts that awed me: the depth and width of the river, the hidden coves and the desert mountains. Another part of me was saddened by the state of the river and the places where humankind utterly neglects the natural environment. It was a reminder how interconnected and dependent we are on this beautiful river. |