top of page
  • Writer's pictureJenna Granger

What is Happening at Donner Creek?

Are you familiar with the situation at Donner Creek? At first glance, it might seem like a picturesque forest stream, but upon further examination, you may realize why the EPA labeled it as Impaired by Sediment. Throughout the last two centuries, this creek has experienced notable changes, which was the main topic of the in-depth presentation that SWEP presented to the environmental science students at Truckee High School in the spring of 2024.

Donner Creek, located on Washoe Land, has been heavily modified by outsiders moving into the area since the 1800s. The introduction of cattle, roads, buildings and the railway in the last 200 years has impacted the quality, the structure, location and health of the creek. The Truckee River Watershed Council (FORIVER) has identified four problematic areas of the creek starting near the end of Deerfield Dr. and ending where the creek meets the Truckee River. Each of these areas have specific problems such as how the creek was straightened (creeks are naturally sinuous), how there is erosion without proper deposition, multiple 90 degree turns, and highway runoff directly impacting the creek.

The Watershed Council has dedicated many years to initiating the restoration of Donner Creek, and this summer marks the beginning of construction efforts. Heavy machinery will be present in the creek bed to move earth, and although it may seem counterintuitive to observe, this activity is crucial to reintroduce the natural processes of the creek. The objective is to enhance the creek by reintroducing more of its natural features, including improved riparian and in-stream habitats, sinuosity, varying depths, shaded areas to maintain cool water temperatures for the creek's wildlife, and ultimately reduce erosion that leads to sedimentation in the creek. Additionally, the project aims to fortify existing infrastructure like highway 89 and the Donner Creek Trailer Park, both of which are under threat from erosion. 

The goal of the project is to find the balance of having a healthy creek within the existing functional structure of our community. 

After learning about the background, students had the opportunity to engage in practical science by working with stream tables to investigate the functioning of a stream. They were able to observe firsthand how a stream generates sediment that flows downstream in a straight path, compared to the natural process of sedimentation and deposition in a meandering creek.

The following day, students from Truckee High School walked to Donner Creek to personally observe the conditions. The data gathered by the students during water quality monitoring, focusing on the creek's physical attributes such as temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity, revealed a compromised creek system. During a litter clean-up and evaluation activity, they discovered a substantial amount of litter affecting both the creek and the adjacent riparian area. A total of over 100 gallons of litter were successfully removed.

The students who participated in SWEP's lesson at Truckee High School are now informed about the challenges that this creek is encountering, and we are all enthusiastic about these significant changes!

Thank you to the partners involved in this important project: Truckee River Watershed Council, California Department of Transportation, Newport Pacific/Cirus Development, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, Sierra Joint Community College District, Truckee Donner Land Trust, Truckee Donner Public Utility District, and the California Department of Water Resourcese.

4 views0 comments


bottom of page