Jump to Navigation

Document / Report

Truckee River Water Quality: Current Conditions and Trends Relevant to TMDLs and WLAs

Prepared for
Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility
City of Reno and City of Sparks, Nevada

Prepared by
Alan Jassby PhD, Ted Daum MS, and Charles Goldman PhD
Ecological Research Associates
Davis, Calif.
September 10, 2007


Sedimentation and Erosion in the Upper Truckee River and Trout Creek Watershed (1969)

Dept. of Conservation
Division of Source Conservation

This report on erosion, sedimentation, and flooding on the Trout Creek and Upper Truckee River Watershed is based on field work carried out by the Division of Soil Conservation. It is a part of a larger study, the Lake Tahoe Coordinated Study, initiated by the Department of Conservation in 1967 which involved the Division of Soil Conservation, the Division of Mines and Geology, and the Division of Forestry. The coordinated study is intended to help agencies of local government and others to cope with resource problems that have developed within the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Truckee River Water Chemistry Synoptic Study

Prepared by
Carollo Engineers with Assistance from Rapid Creek Research

As part of the Truckee River watershed Coordinated Monitoring Program (CMP), intensive monitoring of Truckee River water quality was conducted in November 1998 with participation from many of the resource agencies in the area. The purposes of this report are to present the objectives of this study, summarize sampling protocols and laboratory procedures, present the data collected, and provide a brief discussion on the results and recommendations for future synoptic studies.

Summary of current water chemistry and biological monitoring in Truckee River Basin between Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake

Written By

Jim Brock and Alan McKay
Contacts: jbrock@dri.edu, alan@dri.edu

This document presents the data collection and monitoring efforts that occur along the Truckee River by various organizations. This document is maintained by Jim Brock and Alan McKay of the Desert Research Institute.

Preliminary Assessment of Contaminants and Potential Effects to Fish of the Truckee River, Nevada

Written By
Damian K. Higgins, Peter L. Tuttle, and J. Scott Foote
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office

Environmental Contaminants Program
Off-Refuge Investigations Sub-Activity
FFS # 1130-1F35

January 2006

Previous investigations by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and others reported elevated concentrations of a variety of metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in Truckee River sediment collected in and downstream of the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area in Nevada in 1998. USGS scientists also documented elevated contaminant concentrations in fish and aquatic invertebrates which exceeded published biological effects criteria. In 1999 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) biologists also noted a higher incidence of lesions, hemorrhagic septicemia, and external parasites in fish collected in this same reach. Therefore, the Service initiated a synoptic investigation in 2002 to determine if contaminants are affecting or have the potential to affect fish health, survival, or reproductive potential in the lower Truckee River. Specific Service objectives included: 1) evaluation of fish abundance and community structure; 2) assessment of the external condition of fish; 3) detailed evaluation of salmonid health (i.e., internal/external condition, histology, cytology, disease, and parasites); 4) characterization of fish contaminant exposure and accumulation; and 5) screening for indicators of endocrine disruption.

Fish were collected from 5 sampling sites on the Truckee River from Verdi, Nevada to its terminus near the Marble Bluff Dam at Pyramid Lake. Abundance and community structure values (species evenness and Index of Biotic Integrity) declined in a downstream fashion with notable reductions occurring at the Lockwood and Marble Bluff sample sites which were likely a result of cumulative effects of urbanization, loss of riparian cover, reduced flows, increased water temperature, as well as contaminants. Condition of brown trout and mountain/Tahoe suckers were significantly reduced at downstream sites. High percentages of external anomalies were also observed at sampling sites downstream of the Reno-Sparks urban area and ranged from 11% at Marble Bluff to a maximum of 43% at Lockwood. These anomalies were also likely the result of non-point sources, sewage effluent discharges, and reduced flows.

Evaluations of salmonid health revealed no significant issues with regards to organosomatic assays, blood chemistry, microbiological assessment, and histological evaluation from each sampling site. However, some data indicated suspected infections of bacterial kidney disease and other bacterial-type infections. However, these infections were not expressive enough or had detrimental impacts to those fish.

To assess contaminant exposure and accumulation, five to seven trout of appropriate size (? 200 mm) were randomly selected from sampling sites and were analyzed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon metabolites in bile and concentrations of metals or trace elements in whole fish. Bile data revealed fish were being exposed to elevated concentrations of naphthalene and phenanthrene in the Reno-Sparks area. These concentrations, which were likely the result of urban run-off sources, exceeded criteria considered as contaminated. Whole fish data revealed concentrations of aluminum, barium, iron, and manganese were highest in rainbow trout compared to brown trout. Mercury concentrations in brown trout did not exceed water quality standards established by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe. Concentrations of aluminum and barium in whole fish were highest above Reno and were likely the result of geochemical interactions of stream water with specific bedrock types. However, none of these concentrations exceeded known adverse biological effects. Concentrations of arsenic, mercury, and selenium in whole fish were highest at the Tracy sampling site located below the Reno-Sparks urban area. The sources of uptake for these constituents originate mostly from geothermal springs, historic mine wastes, irrigation, and tertiary-treated sewage effluent within the Steamboat Creek drainage. Arsenic and selenium concentrations did not exceed known adverse biological effects. Mercury concentrations in trout downstream of the Reno-Sparks urban area did not exceed avian dietary effects, fish consumption guidelines, and water quality standards established by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.

Several studies have associated municipal waste water discharges with endocrine system effects in fish. Because treated municipal waste water represents a significant component of flows in the lower Truckee River, blood plasma was collected to screen for indicators of endocrine disruption in trout. Vitellogenin (VTG) concentrations were detected in two males downstream of the Reno-sparks urban area. Male fish do not normally produce VTG, but the hepatic estrogen receptor and the gene that encodes for VTG is still present. The result is that when male fish are exposed to estrogenic compounds, VTG production can be induced. Also, all adult males in the fish health assessment had no mature testes at all sites. The presence of VTG in the two males combined with the organosomatic data provides some evidence of potential endocrine disruption in individual trout. However, additional research is needed to assess which endocrine disrupting compounds may be present in the Truckee River, and the extent to which these compounds may be affecting fish populations.

The long-term health and reproductive potential of fish in the Truckee River will be increasingly affected as the Reno-Sparks urban area continues to expand. Restoration of river function and augmentation of wetlands within the floodplain would assist in attenuating contributions of contaminants from various point and non-point sources. Improvements in sewage effluent discharges and effective urban planning can also assist to reduce both point and non-point sources of some contaminants. Without addressing these issues, these point and non-point sources of contaminants will present significant challenges to maintaining a healthy fishery and prevent long-term restoration efforts of Lahontan cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki henshawi) in the Truckee River.

Written in cooperation with

The authors acknowledge members of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Nevada Department of Wildlife, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and University of Nevada, Reno for providing ideas and information on fish and water-quality issues and for participating in this study. Members of those organizations who participated in data collection and provided technical assistance for this study include:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
William Cowan, Jody Fraser, Rick Harmon, Chad Mellison, Bridget Nielsen, Stan Wiemeyer

U.S. Geological Survey
Timothy S. Gross, Angela Paul, Timothy Rowe, Karen A. Thomas

Nevada Department of Wildlife
Kim Tisdale

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe
Beverly Harry, Dan Mosley, Nancy Vucinich

University of Nevada, Reno
Sudeep Chandra, Ph.D, Laurel Saito, Ph.D

Evaluating the Impact of TROA Alternatives on Pyramid Lake Algal Production and Hypolimnetic Oxygen: Final Alternatives

Prepared For

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Nevada State Office, Reno, Nevada 89502 (March 6, 2004)


The factors controlling nitrogen availability, and hence algal productivity, in Pyramid Lake differ from those in the Truckee River, and therefore, an assessment of the impacts of water management strategies must reflect those differences. As a lake, algal production in Pyramid is affected by total available nitrogen from external sources, internal sources, and the nitrogen concentration of lake waters. This dependence of production on a variety of nitrogen sources means that nitrogen availability for a given year depends on the supply of nitrogen to the lake over several years rather than simply during the current year. The Davis Limnology Group developed in 1994 a computer simulation modeling tool that predicts the eutrophication response of Pyramid Lake as a whole to nitrogen loadings. In the past, the U.C. Davis Tool was used to evaluate how different Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA) alternatives may affect the coldwater fishery of Pyramid Lake for the report to the negotiators (1995) and the DEIS/EIR (1996) compared with current conditions and the No Action Alternative. This study evaluates the TROA alternative developed for the TROA EIS/EIR and compares predictions with current conditions, the No Action Alternative, and a Local Water Supply Alternative (LWS).

Simulated water quality for the lake under current conditions are similar to conditions reported during the 1970's and 1980's. Mean lake concentrations for dissolved inorganic (DIN) and dissolved organic (DON) nitrogen during the final 87 years of the simulation were 0.091 and 0.69 mg/l, respectively, while average algal production was 173 g C/m2?yr. Spikes in the simulated values for the DIN concentration in the lake and annual algal production were associated with years of high river inflow.

The impact of the Alternatives on food availability and habitat for the coldwater fish population of Pyramid Lake was evaluated by comparing values for No Action with values determined for current conditions and by comparing the TROA and LWS Alternatives with the No Action Alternative. Conditions for the No Action Alternative were similar to current conditions, with lower river inflow and corresponding coldwater fishery habitat. Under the TROA Alternative, Truckee River inflow to Pyramid Lake increased by 11,500 acre?ft/yr causing mean lake level for 1913-1999 to be 3.2 ft higher than under the No Action Alternative. This increase in river inflow for the TROA Alternative corresponded with higher predicted DIN loading (3.9 Mg N/yr) and DON loading (13.1 Mg N/yr). Differences in lake characteristics for TROA and the No Action Alternative were relatively small but generally benefited the coldwater fishery of Pyramid Lake. The LWS Alternative provided results similar to the No Action Alternative.

Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA) - Draft

This draft of the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA) is the preferred alternative for analysis in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report to which it is an appendix. This Draft TROA is the result of negotiations among representatives of the United States Departments of the Interior and Justice, the State of California, the State of Nevada, the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Indians, Sierra Pacific Power Company, and other entities in the State of California and the State of Nevada. This Draft TROA represents agreement among its negotiators that it is a draft and it constitutes the preferred alternative for operating Truckee River Reservoirs in a manner which will carry out terms of Public Law No. 101-618, the Truckee-Carson-Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act (Settlement Act). Section 205(a)(9) of the Settlement Act requires that the Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior satisfy the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act in negotiating TROA. Although not a requirement of the Settlement Act, the State of California must comply with the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) and Waste Load Allocations (WLAs) Final Report, February 1994

Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requires states to identify waters that do not or are not expected to meet applicable water quality standards with technology-based controls alone. Once these waters are identified, states are to develop total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) at a level necessary to achieve the applicable water quality standards. The Truckee River at Lockwood is listed on Nevada's 303(d) List for total nitrogen, total phosphorus and total dissolved solids. NDEP has chosen to use the chemical specific approach for the establishing TMDLs.

Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requires states implement water quality-based controls where technology based limits and implemented Best Management Practices (BMPs) are not sufficient to achieve water quality standards. A TMDL is a tool for implementing State water quality standards and is based on the relationship between pollutant sources and in-stream water quality conditions. TMDLs integrate the management of both point and nonpoint sources of pollution to a waterbody. The TMDL establishes the allowable loadings or other quantifiable parameters for a waterbody and thereby provides the basis for establishing water quality-based controls. These controls should provide the pollution reduction necessary for a waterbody to meet water quality standards.

A TMDL quantifies pollutant sources and allocates allowable loads to the contributing point and nonpoint sources so that the water quality standards are attained. The greatest amount of loading that a water can receive without violating water quality standards is the loading capacity. The waste load allocation (WLA) is the portion of a receiving water's loading capacity that is allocated to existing or future point sources of pollution. EPA regulations (40 CFR 130.2(g)) provide that load allocations for nonpoint sources and/or natural background "are best estimates of the loading which may range from reasonably accurate estimates to gross allotments...."

This document first describes the methodology used for determining a TMDL for both conservative and nonconservative parameters. Then water quality attainment programs other than waste load allocations in the Truckee Meadows Water Reclamation Facility (formerly known as the Reno/Sparks Wastewater Treatment Facility) NPDES permit are discussed. Finally, TMDLs/WLAs for TDS, TN and TP are discussed including a discussion of the proposed NPDES permit and attainability.

River and Reservoir Operations Model, Truckee River Basin, California and Nevada, 1998

By Steven N. Berris, Glen W. Hess, and Larry R. Bohman
U.S. Geological Survey
Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4017


The demand for all uses of water in the Truckee River Basin, California and Nevada, commonly is greater than can be supplied. Storage reservoirs in the system have a maximum effective total capacity equivalent to less than two years of average river flows, so longer-term droughts can result in substantial water-supply shortages for irrigation and municipal users and may stress fish and wildlife ecosystems. Title II of Public Law (P.L.) 101-618, the Truckee–Carson–Pyramid Lake Water Rights Settlement Act of 1990, provides a foundation for negotiating and developing operating criteria, known as the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA), to balance interstate and interbasin allocation of water rights among the many interests competing for water from the Truckee River. In addition to TROA, the Truckee River Water Quality Settlement Agreement (WQSA), signed in 1996, provides for acquisition of water rights to resolve water-quality problems during low flows along the Truckee River in Nevada. Efficient execution of many of the planning, management, or environmental assessment requirements of TROA and WQSA will require detailed water-resources data coupled with sound analytical tools. Analytical modeling tools constructed and evaluated with such data could help assess effects of alternative operational scenarios related to reservoir and river operations, water-rights transfers, and changes in irrigation practices.

The Truckee–Carson Program of the U.S. Geological Survey, to support U.S. Department of the Interior implementation of P.L. 101-618, is developing a modeling system to support efficient water-resources planning, management, and allocation. The daily operations model documented herein is a part of the modeling system that includes a database management program, a graphical user interface program, and a program with modules that simulate river/reservoir operations and a variety of hydrologic processes. The operations module is capable of simulating lake/reservoir and river operations including diversion of Truckee River water to the Truckee Canal for transport to the Carson River Basin. In addition to the operations and streamflow-routing modules, the modeling system is structured to allow integration of other modules, such as water-quality and precipitation-runoff modules.

The USGS Truckee River Basin operations model was designed to provide simulations that allow comparison of the effects of alternative management practices or allocations on streamflow or reservoir storages in the Truckee River Basin over long periods of time. Because the model was not intended to reproduce historical streamflow or reservoir storage values, a traditional calibration that includes statistical comparisons of observed and simulated values would be problematic with this model and database.

This report describes a chronology and background of decrees, agreements, and laws that affect Truckee River operational practices; the construction of the Truckee River daily operations model; the simulation of Truckee River Basin operations, both current and proposed under the draft TROA and WQSA; and suggested model improvements and limitations. The daily operations model uses Hydrological Simulation Program–FORTRAN (HSPF) to simulate flow-routing and reservoir and river operations. The operations model simulates reservoir and river operations that govern streamflow in the Truckee River from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake, including diversions through the Truckee Canal to Lahontan Reservoir in the Carson River Basin. A general overview is provided of daily operations and their simulation. Supplemental information that documents the extremely complex operating rules simulated by the model is available.

Memo: Data availability for modeling water quality on the Truckee River

Written By

J.T. Brock
Rapid Creek Research

Prepared For

Carollo Engineers
Walnut Creek, California
Reno/Sparks/Washoe Co. Truckee River Project


This document provides a description of data available to support water quality modeling in the Truckee River Basin (DSAMMt model). Conditions within the Truckee Basin have changed considerably throughout the 19th century (beaver importation, riparian tree removal, channelization, flow diversion for agriculture, flood control, Marble Bluff Dam, grazing, flow augmentation, riparian restoration, etc.). Future changes are expected associated with river operations, flood control, and channel restoration. Although it is one of the better studied rivers in the world, there are significant gaps in our knowledge of the system.

Syndicate content