Carson River restoration projects underway
From Alpine County to the Fort Churchill area, restoration projects are underway along the Carson River.
A group of project coordinators and other stakeholders gathered Wednesday to talk about keys to success and challenges. The seminar at Western Nevada College was hosted by the Carson Water Subconservancy District, the Carson River Coalition, and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection.
“All three of these projects had funding, which is often the biggest hurdle,” said Kimra McAfee, executive director, Alpine Watershed Group.
McAfee described two completed projects in Hope Valley meadow conducted in 2010 and 2016, and a third project to begin construction next year.
The upcoming project entails two sites, one to reduce erosion, stabilize river banks, improve water quality and enhance aquatic habitat, and the other to shore up work done in one of the older projects.
Work at both sites is being funded through the state of California from fines levied against two ski resorts for clean water violations.
“What is really special about this funding is it will go out four years and cover monitoring and adaptive management,” said McAfee.
The challenges affect projects up and down the river: the variability of precipitation, typified by recent wet winters, which may only get worse with global warming, said McAfee, and slow and hard to grow vegetation.
“We live in an area that can have both intense heat and frigid cold,” said Francisca Mendive, Carson Valley Conservation District, which affects vegetative growth.
Mendive talked about a project near Cradlebaugh Bridge in Douglas County’s Johnson Lane area to reestablish and stabilize banks which are now cut in 10 to 15 foot verticals.
The project involves using willow cuttings and other bioengineering practices.
“I want to debunk the scary term, bioengineering,” she said. “Property owners are not usually welcoming of a project, especially one with a big scary term like bioengineering.”
A property owner helped draw attention to the need for work now underway years later in the Fort Churchill area.
Rob Holley, Dayton Valley Conservation District, showed a series of aerial photographs of the site starting in 1994 highlighting how the riverbed there has widened and receded, creating 15-foot vertical cut banks dangerously close to Fort Churchill Road and Buckland Ditch, which is used to irrigate 600 acres.
“It’s threatening infrastructure,” said Holley.
The project is scheduled to start next summer.
“We have a narrow window for construction. And the distance to the site adds to the cost,” said Holley. “This is time critical because it continues to erode.”
A panel discussed funding, always the biggest obstacle.
Representatives from California and Nevada talked about federal grants available for projects to reduce non-point source pollution, so-called 319 money named for that section of the Clean Water Act.
States have some leeway how to administer the program and Birgit Widegren, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, talked about Nevada’s requirements.
“The bad news is we get $1 million annually,” said Widegren.
That’s in contrast to the $4 million annually allocated to California, but the Nevada program is somewhat less stringent and more inclusive, funding education programs as well, for example.
Ed James, general manager, CWSD, said the subconservancy district has roughly $300,000 to $400,000 annually to award projects. The money, which is not from the federal government, can also be used by recipients as matching funds for federal grants.
CWSD sends out a notice to apply in January and a panel reviews projects in March.
“We usually get applications for five times what we have to give,” said James. “Our priority is construction.”
And Jim Lawrence, deputy director, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, talked about new funding to come from the state.
Assembly Bill 84 passed this year authorized up to $217 million in bonds for conservation and wildlife management, including $10 million for work on the Carson and Truckee rivers.
A staff position to oversee the program is slated to start in July, and regulations, which will outline key details, could be hammered out either before then or once the position is filled, said Lawrence.
“This is going to be highly competitive,” he said. “As you’re thinking about this program, what I think is most beneficial is telling a story, collectively telling a story for the Carson River corridor.”