The 2017 Truckee River Source to Sea Paddling and Environmental Learning Adventure is almost wrapped.   It has been an eventful month that began with in-school presentations to approximately 720 students in 4 different schools; South Tahoe Middle School in South Lake Tahoe, North Tahoe Middle School in Tahoe City, Sierra Experiential Learning School in Truckee (SELS), and Roy Gromm Elementary School in Reno.  These presentations featured a virtual photo tour of the Truckee river from South Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake, including images and discussions on resource values, environmental threats, and river stewardship efforts along the river.  The response of the kids to the presentation which combined images of paddling adventure and river resources was incredible, and stimulated a lot of interest and questions.  

Rivers for Change also organized an on-shore educational event at the Truckee River Regional Park with 125 kids from the North Tahoe Middle School and SELS.  This event featured a river safety and rescue demonstration by the Truckee Fire District Swiftwater Rescue Team, and a water supply/demand exercise. The water use exercise involved using buckets to simulate water allocation decisions from 4 different sources of water for 4 different uses of water based on actual Truckee River scenarios, during times of plenty as well as drought. It was fascinating to see the “lights go on” for the kids during this simple exercise, which demonstrated some of the complexity and difficulty in managing water in the Truckee River, especially when water gets scarce.

 Our 10 student ambassadors (representing 7 different schools throughout the watershed) completed 6 days of exploration on the Truckee river, traveling through widely different landscapes between South Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake. This included a float in individual water craft through beautiful mountain meadows on the Upper Truckee River, paddling a six-man outrigger canoe along the west shore of Lake Tahoe,  class II-III whitewater rafting through Truckee  as well as Reno, and then another paddle in individual water craft through ten miles of Nature Conservancy restoration east of Reno.  In total the student team paddled almost 60 miles, and on our final day, we explored six miles of the Truckee River on the Tahoe Pyramid Bike Way ending at Pyramid Lake.

Due to high water safety concerns, the Pauite Tribe revoked access to taking the student team on the river, however biking turned out to be a fantastic way to view the river from the top of the bluffs as it nears Pyramid lake, with amazing views of hundreds of nesting white pelicans.  We finished the day with a tour of the Marble Bluff Dam fish passage facility where every year hundreds of thousands of spawning native Lahontan Cutthroat Trout and Cui-ui Sucker fish are transported up 40 feet in a fish elevator.  Located 3 miles upstream of Pyramid Lake, this facility is one of the most fascinating stories of extreme river stewardship to correct the devastating effects of past river management decisions I have ever heard in 27 years as a restoration hydrologist (link to Facebook, go to June 11 post to read the whole story).

We could have not asked for a better group of young people to share this journey with than our student ambassador team; Beckley, Quinn, Wyatt, Will, Annsley, Sissy, Chloe, Laurel, Tobin, and Harland. Their passion for the river, teamwork, and willingness to push themselves both mentally and physically made this event successful beyond measure.

Along the way we shared the student team journey with seven different river stewardship partners including the Truckee River Watershed Council, One Truckee River, The Nature Conservancy, the US Forest Service-Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, the Nevada Division of Wildlife, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Truckee Meadows Water Authority.  From direct interaction, we learned about the resource values these groups are concerned about, and their efforts to protect and restore those values in the Truckee River.

Our small but determined core team paddled 120 miles of the Truckee River, from South Lake Tahoe, California to Wadsworth, Nevada.  Sue Norman used a SUP, two different whitewater kayaks and outrigger canoes for her journey, but Jay Wild completed all his paddling on a stand-up paddle board.  Jays river experience going into the event was minimal, but his considerable ocean experience and paddling skills rapidly enabled him to master class II and III whitewater with competence and style.  By the end of the paddle as the rapids got easier, Jay and Sue pulled out the fastest crafts in their quiver, and were chewing up the river at a pace of almost nine miles an hour.

The core team is waiting on permission from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe in order to complete the last 30 miles of the river journey below Wadsworth.  There have been concerns about this record year of high water and resulting flood debris hazards.  We are in communication with the tribe, and hope that the core team will be able to complete this section of river sometime in the next month.

The 2017 Truckee River Source to Sea event will always be unique because this is the first time that a group of kids engaged in this type of deep environmental learning and adventure, exploring in one week a river from the top of its watershed to its terminus.  Throughout the journey, we discussed how the character (geomorphology) of the river was changing because of natural and human-induced changes in hydrology, topography, and geology.  In addition, the 2017 team experience occurred during the highest water year on record!  The student team paddled on flows they may not witness again until they are grown young men and women with children of their own.

RFC is planning to repeat the Truckee River Source to inland Sea adventure in 2018.  The beauty, diversity, and uniqueness of this watershed is a perfect outdoor laboratory for deep environmental learning, and to engage the next generation of river stewards with their backyard river!

We will also begin initial planning for a Mokelumne River Source to Sea Event in 2019.  Please stay in touch to learn more about how you can also engage in future source to sea adventure with Rivers for Change.