Don Qualls, who enjoys hiking along Greenhorn Creek, is outraged at the environmental damage sustained to the area as a result of a project carried out by Nevada Irrigation District.
Qualls said he was appalled last week when he went for a walk — beginning at the You Bet Road bridge and heading downstream — and saw a desolated area ravaged by heavy machinery and strewn with dead frogs.
“They have destroyed most of the river,” Qualls said. “They’ve been running huge dirt scrapers up and down, diverting the creek, and they killed everything.”
NID, which owns the land adjacent to the creek, has subcontracted with Hansen Brothers Enterprises to perform a sediment excavation project at Rollins Reservoir, said NID Assistant General Manager Tim Crough.
The project was suspended after the California Department of Fish and Wildlife began investigating at the request of Qualls and other concerned citizens.
“The citizens were not happy,” said Jerry Karnow, a DFW warden. “It was a pretty piece of territory that changed significantly, and they were looking for us to do something.”
Compounding the problem is the presence of yellow-legged frogs, which use the slender meandering creek as habitat.
Yellow-legged frogs are currently listed as a species of concern but have garnered attention in California as the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering listing two separate species of the amphibian as endangered.
The species found in Greenhorn Creek is the foothills variety, as opposed to the Sierra Nevada and mountain species, Karnow said.
Foothills yellow-legged frogs are not being considered for imminent endangered species listing, but Karnow said DFW is concerned about the presence of the species.
Karnow said NID has been compliant, voluntarily shutting down operations as soon as they learned of the agency’s concerns.
“NID recognized there is some things that need to be ironed out,” Karnow said.
“We have prepared a corrective action plan, which addresses the need to remove material,” Crough said.
Removal of loose sediment left over from the suspended project must be accomplished before the next storm event, Crough said, but the water agency is attempting to formulate solutions, including a trap and catch program designed to keep the amphibians away from the clean-up operations.
NID had an agreement with state agencies to be able to perform work in the area, but Karnow said aspects of the project veered “outside the boundaries of the agreement.”
“They are not super major,” Karnow said. “But I know there is going to be a notice of violation.”
Crough said the excavation project was prompted by a unique opportunity to remove accumulated sediment from Rollins Lake. NID faces problems resulting from the accrual of sediment in its downstream reservoirs, as it loses water storage capacity annually.
Earlier this year, NID officials said they have lost about 17 percent of storage capacity in downstream reservoirs since the early 20th century when the agency’s water delivery and storage system was being developed.
This year, Pacific Gas & Electric experienced an outage at the Drum Powerhouse, meaning the utility company ceased delivering water into Rollins Reservoir, Crough said.
The agency seized the opportunity to excavate sediment while water levels were considerably lower than average, Crough said.
For Qualls, the reasons that drove the project paled in comparison to the environmental damage wrought on the area.
“Hey, there are ways to make your living and still be respectful of the environment and not destroy it,” he said.
“I couldn’t sleep, I was so devastated at what they did.”
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.