February 28, 2024 1:23 pm
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Nevada Water Authority to Focus on Wildfire Prevention for Truckee River Watershed

Credit: iStock

Anzhe Zhang

Truckee Meadows Water Authority (TMWA), the main utility for the region encapsulating Reno and Sparks, is looking upstream and closer to the source of the Truckee River in the hopes that preventing wildfires on the land surrounding it will keep water cycles stable for Nevada.

By reducing the possibilities of wildfires, which erode rivers and make the soil inhospitable for plant growth, the water coming from the Truckee River is not only less likely to be contaminated, but also less likely to be lost to runoff.

That’s why last month, the TMWA signed an agreement between various nonprofits and the U.S. Forest Service that committed to a forest vegetation plan alongside the Truckee River over a decade-long span in a bid to reduce wildfires.

The agreement homes in on the part of the Truckee River that goes from Lake Tahoe to the Nevada border and aims to be preventative. Taking cues from other water sources in the state that have been dealt a blow by extreme wildfires, the agreement, despite being called a forest vegetation plan, aims to thin the forests surrounding the key watershed in an attempt of staying ahead of wildfires.

Mickey Hazelwood, the conservation director at The Nature Conservancy in Nevada, said that they were “fortunate” that no severe fires have occurred in this area’s watershed in recent memory.

“But they’ve been getting closer and closer to home. I think that’s one of the things that’s gotten people’s attention in the last few years,” Hazelwood continued. 

“Current conditions indicate that the forest and habitats in the Middle Truckee River watershed are likely not resilient to a variety of disturbances,” the signed memorandum noted, effectively pointing out that conditions are ripe for a significant wildfire.

The agreement includes around 60,000 acres of forest in need of thinning, which has proved to be controversial for environmental groups who object to what they argue is a practice that benefits logging companies and destroys old forest growth, while other advocates have questioned how effective the practice is for preventing wildfires.

The memorandum notes that the parties involved plan to take an “ecologically-based approach” that focuses on small-scale fires and biodiversity.

Meanwhile, another wildfire reduction plan in the state, called the Ladybug Project, will put around $3.8 million towards clearing forests with controlled fires and other equipment, and is expected to be complete by 2025.

Stefanie Morris, the director of legal and regulatory affairs at TMWA, defended the practice, noting that the water authority is being “increasingly sophisticated about where and how we’re doing thinning and where and how we’re leaving trees and how we’re restoring creeks, streams, wetlands and meadows.”