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The Truckee River has historically been a resource for irrigation water, municipal water, logging, generating electricity, and for fishing. The cities and the county did not fully embrace the river as an amenity to the community until the 1970s and 80s when a recreational river corridor was conceived. Since that time, improvements have been made to the river corridor. The completion of the river path and park system from Sparks to Reno in the 1990s increased recreational use along the river. However, a recreation survey conducted by Sparks revealed less use than what would be expected for the Truckee River Greenway when compared to river greenways in other cities. Several reasons were noted, but the primary one was a concern for personal safety due to the remote nature of the river and the people who tend to live temporarily along the corridor (Sparks, 1997). Other cities, such as Denver, Colorado, have found that improvements to the river trail system increased public use, which tends to dislocate the transient populations.
Canoeist enjoying the Truckee River, NV.
The 24-mile stretch of River between Verdi and Vista is characterized by numerous dams and diversion structures.
In-stream river recreation on the Truckee River is limited because:
River-wide water diversion dams obstruct boat passage
There is no defined low-flow channel.
These limitations are discussed further below and are the largest inhibitors to commercial and private recreational use of the river.
The various dams on the Truckee River create several types of hazards:
Boulders and debris can create foot entrapment hazards
Localized hydraulic conditions can create drowning holes
Passage over a dam can damage recreational equipment
The Chalk Bluff dam west of Reno is hazardous at both low and high flows. At low flows, there is no low-flow passage over the dam and the rough surface on the face of the dam can damage recreational river equipment. At high flows, typically greater than 2,500 cubic feet per second (cfs), a deadly river-wide reversal wave typical of low-head dams is created at the toe of the dam. In the late 1990s the dam was modified in order to reduce the drowning hazard, however, at high flows a deadly river-wide hydraulic still develops at the base of the dam. Other dams on the river, such as the old dam at Ambrose Park, the dams at Wingfield Park, Glendale, and the Pioneer Ditch dam, are also hazardous due to large boulders, concrete slabs, rebar, and debris. The boulders and debris create an entrapment hazard and can damage recreational equipment.
The lack of navigable low-flow channels also limits recreational opportunities on the river. In many sections of the river the water spreads across the entire channel bottom during low flow. Typical sections include Mayberry Street Bridge to Ambrose Park, the section across from Idlewild Park, Booth Street to Wingfield Park, Center Street to Lake Street, and Highway 395 to Fishermans Park. Where the channel bottom is very wide, the rocky nature of the channel bottom negates safe boat passage during the warm summer months when recreational use could be the highest.