Experts review the Carson by river raft
Monday was a day to come together and learn more about the Carson River for nine representatives from government agencies with an interest in the vital waterway who made a 20-mile raft trip down the lower East Fork to investigate.
“Rivers tend to be lifebloods of communities,” said Bill Van Bruggen, partnership specialist with the U.S. Forest Service and one of the trip’s organizers. “We do this kind of a trip from time to time to look at the river and see what it’s doing. After the conference, many of us said, ‘Where do we go from here?’ It’s one thing to talk about the river, but it’s a different thing to see it firsthand.”
The put-in stretch of the float was at Hangman’s Bridge, north of Markleeville at an elevation of nearly 5,500 feet. At the wooden bridge at this site in 1873, Ernst Reusch had been hanged under suspicious circumstances involving 10 masked vigilantes and the county of Alpine.
Monday, the bridge, now concrete and modern, was host to dozens of noisy Cliff Swallows tending their nestlings in mud nest colonies beneath the structure. As the three boats launched, the birds swirled and followed each vessel, hunting the insects flying overhead.
In addition to one raft from the BLM and one from the USFS, Minden attorney Jim Hales domnated a third raft to the effort.
n Is there whitetop? Dan Kaffer, coordinator of the Western Nevada Resource, Conservation and Development Area, a division of the USDA, said each person on the trip was gathering data.
“We were all looking for different things,” he said. “One of the things I was looking for was tall whitetop, the noxious weed we are concerned about. We did see some short whitetop, which is not as hard to get rid of as the tall species, but it is still a seed source for everyone downstream, including the Carson Valley, so we are definitely concerned about that.”
All the representatives – from U.S. Forest Service and Nevada State Parks to the UNR Cooperative Extension and the BLM – agreed that what happens in the uplands of the Carson River affects everyone in the lowlands.
“We saw that the river is in pretty bad shape from the flood, with bank erosion and loss of riparian and floodplain areas,” Kaffer said. “The soil from that erosion is what we have here in the Valley with all our sediment in the river here.”
n Conference follow-up. The Carson River Conference drew 250 participants last April – far more than organizers expected. Many worried that what was accomplished at the two day-long conferences would be forgotten, but by looking at the river Monday, area players came away with a renewed sense of what is at stake in knowing more about the Carson River.
“One big issue from the conference was that various groups were doing things on the river, but there wasn’t a leader – someone with a vision,” said John Singlaub regional manager for the Bureau of Land Management, as he steered one of the rafts through a rapid, trying to talk above the roar of water rushing through the narrow channel. “My hope is that we stay focused on the big picture of the river and not geared up only toward flood control. Here we are, in the middle of this great recreation area – something we can’t afford to lose or take for granted. We need to pay attention to all aspects of this river.”
Singlaub has been down this stretch of the river many times. Three weeks ago, he said, the water was higher, causing the rapids to be less intense.
n River flora and fauna. The banks of the river were thick with wild roses and desert willows for most of the 20 miles, the air fragrant with the sweet aroma of sun-heated roses. More than 20 species of birds were sighted, from Western Tanagers to Common Mergansers and Turkey Vultures floating on the warm rising air. Hot springs dotted the length of the river and it was hard to imagine civilization close by.
“What I noticed was all the outstandingly unique things about this river – the geology, for example, is amazing. This is the only river that comes off the Sierra with these features,” said ecologist Jenny Scanland with the USFS. “We can see that the river was really ripped up after the flood. I noticed the immediate building (from the debris coming down with floodwaters). This river is a lot bigger than what people think – we’re very lucky to have it here in our backyard. Many depend on the river – all the way past Fallon – and we have all these different agencies managing it together. We have to keep the ball rolling and stay in touch.”
Hydrologist John Cobourn with UNR Cooperative Extension, said trips like this are important for river research. Steve Lewis, from the Gardnerville cooperative extension office was also in attendance.
“This is an opportunity for those who were a part of the two river conferences to see what changes have occurred as a result of the flood and to get a feel for the river in general,” he said. “This is about the headwaters to Stillwater – and on a larger scale, we’re now finding that water pollution, which used to come mostly from industry, with visible pipes putting polluted water into the waterways, is now coming more from runoff and we need to be aware of that.”
n Unique environment. Mark Kimbrough, regional manager with State Parks and a volunteer with the Carson River Advisory Committee, working with resource, recreation and land owners in Carson City, took the day off to attend the river float.
“People need to realize how unique this river environment is – we’re fortunate to be on this side of the Sierra – there is nothing like it on the other side,” he said.
Tom Baker, rural director for Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., and one of the most enthusiastic proponents of the Carson River, said he is optimistic – particularly after having the opportunity to see the river close-up – that the various local, state and federal agencies who have anything to do with the river will be able to work together even more effectively in the future.
“What’s going to make all this work is to have different groups come together and respect the rights and needs of each other – recreation, agriculture, development and wildlife needs,” he said. “People wanted to see leadership after the conferences. I don’t think there really is a strong conflict as long as we communicate and respect each other. This is an amazing river, full of life and potential.”
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