The Truckee River cleaned itself for 2 million years and did an outstanding job. Then came “civilization.”
The waterway has needed help keeping up appearances – and maintaining its water quality — since the 1860s. Yet, it took more than 100 years before Truckee Meadows residents started paying attention to the health of the waterway. Environmental laws were passed in the 1970s and various groups have adopted the river and led cleanup campaigns since the mid-1990s. For the last 17 years, the Truckee has enjoyed the attention of volunteers from Reno-Sparks organized by the environmental group Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful.
This year’s Truckee River Cleanup Day is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 26, from 9 a.m. to noon. Volunteers are needed for the massive cleanup and beautification effort throughout the Truckee River watershed. The event is a bit different – and perhaps even more important — this year.
Trash and weeds building up around city parks
Trash effluent is building up in the river near Mustang, east of the city limits, and some Reno-Sparks parks also have worse than usual litter problems, environmentalists said. The river, which flows inland 121 miles from its outlet at Lake Tahoe to its terminus at Pyramid Lake, channels Sierra snowmelt to all living things along its course.
“The Truckee River is an extremely important resource for our community,” said Christi Cakiroglu, executive director of Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful. “It not only provides the majority of our local drinking water, but endless opportunities for recreation, tourism and more. Our Truckee River Cleanup Day, as well as our year-round cleanup efforts, is an important piece to the puzzle of keeping our river clean year-round.”
This summer, volunteers removed more than 77,000 pounds of trash and 31,000 pounds of weeds and other vegetation waste from the river and its banks. Getting rid of that pollution and organic clutter, Cakiroglu said, is an important way to improve the health and safety of local ecosystems.
“We beheld the green banks and crystal clear waters of the Truckee River by the morning sun. It was to us the River of Life.”– Elisha Brooks, 1852, after crossing the 40-Mile Desert in a wagon train.
Tributaries included in this year’s cleanup effort
This year, the Sept. 26 cleanup effort will include tributaries and streams that empty into the Truckee, stopping litter and blight before the detritus reaches the main waterway, said Sophie Butler, community programs manager for the group. She said the pandemic has changed the way this year’s effort is being organized and carried out.
“We have about 23 sites this year and we’ve limited the number of people at each one to keep within the COVID safety limitations for group gatherings and to be able to maintain social distance while we’re completing the projects,” she said. “Normally, we have around 700 to 800 people out working; this year we’ll have about 400 volunteers.”
As a part of the group’s increased safety measures the number of people who can work at each site is limited, so volunteers must register in advance. The group has produced a COVID-related safety protocol video and participants are required to wear face masks while working at the sites. All updated safety information can be found on the KTMB website on the volunteer signup page.
Families may choose sites, work together
Volunteers will be able to choose which park they wish to work at. Butler said the volunteers will receive email updates as the cleanup date approaches. The messages will remind people what to bring and what safety guidelines apply. The day can be a family affair; children ages 5 and older may volunteer. Athletic ability and great strength aren’t a requirement, Butler said.
“At most of our sites, there’s something for people of all ages and abilities to do,” she said. “There’s generally litter-picking at every site (with hand-held grabbers). Not everybody has to be bending over. We generally ask people to consider their own physical limitations and find which options they can do.”
She said team leaders will help volunteers identify which weeds and invasive plants to pull. “We’ll have gloves for everybody and we note family-friendly sites on our volunteers’ page. All but two of the locations are considered family-friendly.”
Volunteer opportunities exist year-round
The effort to keep the river banks clean and its water pristine doesn’t end with this month’s cleanup day. This fall, Butler said, volunteers also are needed for various projects aimed at beautifying and cleaning up the Truckee River watershed, including trash pick-up, invasive weed removal, storm drain stenciling, native plant and tree planting, and park beautification projects.
Details about those volunteer opportunities also can be found on the Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful volunteer information page.
The cleanup is made possible thanks to Keep Truckee Meadows Beautiful’s 2020 supporters: the Truckee River Fund, the Washoe County Health District, UPS, REI, Trout Unlimited Sagebrush Chapter, the City of Reno, the City of Sparks, Washoe County, The Nature Conservancy, Pepsi, Save Mart Supermarkets, RT Donovan, the Sun Valley General Improvement District and the Bureau of Land Management.