Assessing Stream Health to Prioritize Water Quality Improvements in Large Watersheds
The Truckee River is one of Nevada’s most significant natural and cultural resources, delivering 80% of all drinking water for the Cities of Reno, and Sparks, and much of Washoe County. The river provides irrigation water for agriculture in western Nevada and is the only significant source of water to Pyramid Lake, a sensitive and valuable "desert terminus lake". The Truckee River is home to multiple endangered fish species and is an important source of food and culture to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. The Truckee River Watershed includes many western Nevada tributaries that flow from the surrounding mountains through the developed and undeveloped areas of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County. Many of these streams are impacted by hydromodification and transport high loads of eroded sediment and other pollutants from urban stormwater runoff, excess irrigation, and agricultural return flows.
To preserve this valuable resource, a Watershed Assessment and Protection Program (program) was developed, and is being implemented by, the Cities of Reno and Sparks and Washoe County. This group of Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) co-permittees has collaborated for many years and strives to establish common goals and approaches for protecting the region’s water resources. The co-permittees, with additional support from the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) and the Western Regional Water Commission (WRWC), fund the program and have collaborated for many years to successfully implement a wide variety of research, restoration and water quality improvement projects.
Under this program, assessments of the western Nevada tributary watersheds to the Truckee River have been performed since 2005 to evaluate impacts from development and track trends in stream condition and overall stream health. This presentation provides an overview of this interagency collaborative program, the associated field protocols, data management, analysis, and reporting tools, and a summary of results.
Stream assessments protocols follow the Proper Functioning Condition (PFC) methodology developed by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. The PFC assessments include observations of channel, floodplain, and riparian zone conditions, and provide a consistent approach for evaluating the conditions and processes impacting stream health and water quality. The assessments also focused strongly on identifying and prioritizing specific problems associated with stormwater discharges and invasive or noxious weed infestations.
An extensive collection of information has been developed including photographs, written field observations, locations and types of problem areas, spatial data, and evaluations of stream function. Data is housed in a comprehensive Geographical Information System (GIS) database, and results are presented in detailed annual reports. An additional tool for quick and easy sharing and review of the assessment data, including geo-referenced images, was developed using Google’s Keyhole Markup Language (KML) tools. This tool works with commonly available freeware such as Google Earth and provides a highly manageable and creative approach to presenting, sharing, and reviewing these types of data.
The assessment results provide representative annual snapshots of the overall health of the surveyed streams. The results are typical of stream channels impacted by urbanized watersheds with channel incision, disconnected floodplains, bank erosion, and invasive/noxious weeds observed throughout the project area. Assessment results were used to develop and prioritize recommendations for water quality improvements including stream channel restoration and implementation of Low Impact Development (LID) strategies in existing developments. Also, an aggressive weed eradication program is needed including enforcement of Nevada Revised Statute (NRS) 555 requiring private landowners to properly eradicate noxious species.
Russ Vadenais is a California licensed civil engineer with ten years of experience in stormwater management practices including design of best management practices, water quality analysis, erosion control, watershed assessments, and stormwater manual development. He is experienced in green infrastructure and Low Impact Development, hydrologic, hydraulic, and water quality modeling, stream surveys, pollutant source control, water quality sampling and data analysis, stream flow monitoring, and BMP performance monitoring. He is a registered in the State of California as a Qualified SWPPP Developer, Qualified SWPPP Practitioner, and Qualified Industrial Stormwater Practitioner.
Theresa Jones is an Associate Civil Engineer for the Environmental Services Division of the City of Reno Public Works Department. She is a member of the Truckee Meadows Stormwater Permit Coordinating Committee, and is currently serving as project manager for the Truckee Meadows Tributary Assessment Program. Ms. Jones has many years of experience implementing municipal and transportation related stormwater management programs and has dedicated her career to water quality protection.
Scott Kobs is a water resources engineer with CDM Smith. Scott received his bachelors from Purdue University in Civil Engineering and his Masters from University of Nevada, Reno in Hydrologic Sciences. His experience includes stormwater quality monitoring, data analysis, hydrologic analysis, and hydrologic modeling. Scott has supported multiple stormwater projects in the Lake Tahoe Basin and Truckee Meadows including evaluating water quality and the effectiveness of Best Management Practices, assessing stream condition and health, and evaluating spatial data using geographic information systems.