Carson River unaffected by Waterfall fire so far

In more than a year since wildfire scarred the hills west of Carson City and left the soil free to move with rain and snowmelt streams, it appears the Carson River has so far escaped the muck and ash some had feared.

The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, which monitors the Carson River, "did not see any noticeable affects from the Waterfall fire," said NDEP Spokeswoman Cindy Petterson.

Although numerous government agencies converged on the blackened ground with seeds, saplings and erosion control devices, the fate of the Carson River rested largely with the weather.

Manmade and natural barriers usually keep silt picked up by burn-area runoff from making it into the river, but "in high (stream) flows it does get there," said Ed James, manager of the Carson Water Subconservancy District.

This year, a vulnerable time in terms of soil erosion, there haven't been high flows.

With a massive snowpack heading into spring, environmental officials worried a quick meltoff would send water rushing through the canyons of Carson City, taking with it tons of soil left unanchored by vegetation after last summer's fire.

But the snowmelt proceeded gradually, and aside from one short storm, the rain that fell wasn't heavy enough to produce flooding.

"From my observation, I'd say we were lucky with Mother Nature this year," said James. "She really worked with us."

Still, land managers expect revegetation to take at least five years to grow enough roots to bind the dirt in place. Meanwhile, rehabilitation and erosion control efforts are continuing.

Just one of several government agencies trying to grow more plants and protect against erosion with logs, detention basins and other means, Carson City alone has spent nearly $2.5 million in the aftermath of the fire that burned nearly 8,800 acres and 18 homes last July.

The conservancy district is chipping in $100,000 for the city's effort, to be focused on water quality projects.

"This is expensive and we just want to promote the city and help them out financially," said James.

The subconservancy district, a multicounty agency focusing on the health of the Carson River watershed, doles out about $1 million a year for various river-linked projects.

According to the NDEP, the river needs the help.

Although unfazed so far from fire-related soil erosion, Carson River water quality has been going down, Petterson said, mostly related to "continued urbanization."

More buildings and pavement mean less untouched ground for runoff water to filter into before seeping into the river. This has lead to increased sediment mucking up the water, which leads to declining wildlife starting with fish, and eventually will change the entire ecosystem.

A century of restricting the river's flow for agricultural purposes hasn't helped either, she said.

"Sometimes there are long-term effects so you can't see it right away."

n Contact reporter Cory McConnell at or 881-1217.


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