Trout Creek running clear again
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE – Algae laced its water last year. Today, with completion of a $3 million restoration project, Trout Creek is running clear through lush, twisting banks peppered with wildflowers.
Managers say the project – the largest of its sort in the Lake Tahoe Basin – is a success, with groundwater, vegetation, fisheries and wildlife all on the rise.
”The water looks just incredible,” said Russ Wigart, an engineering technician with the city of South Lake Tahoe, which owns the wetland. ”All the vegetation on the banks is growing like crazy.”
The stream was channelized in the 1880s to make way for Lake Valley Railroad, which moved lumber from Meyers to Bijou.
The restoration project aims to repair damage created because the creek was moved and straightened. The old changes in the creek made the surrounding meadow drier and decreased the creek’s ability to sustain wildlife and hold soil.
Most of the old creek acted like a shotgun, digging the channel deeper each year and firing sediment and nutrients to Lake Tahoe, where declining clarity is a problem. Sections of the channelized creek ran 25 feet wide and five feet deep, said Jim Haen, a civil engineer and project manager.
The new creek bed is 31¼2 feet higher than the old one. The extra elevation allows better distribution of water in the meadow and has produced thicker vegetation that will, in theory, keep sediment and nutrients out of the lake.
The higher, narrower and more winding creek made groundwater in the meadow rise almost overnight. Since the restoration work, it has risen 2 to 3 feet.
The refreshed wetland allows vegetation to receive more water, flourish and attract more insects and wildlife, said Victor Insera, wildlife and stream restoration specialist at California Tahoe Conservancy.
But change takes time, and it may take years before water quality improvements can be attributed to the project.
Frequent turns in the new creek also created pools of water that work well as fish habitat. About 10,000 fish were moved from the old channel to the new creek, and the numbers of fish seem to have increased since the restoration work.
”I think it’s had a real positive effect. The meadow is recovering nicely and actually improved from raised, standing water,” said Matt Kiesse, fisheries biologist at River Run, a business in Truckee. ”All signs are pointing to it being really successful.”
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