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Ecological Projects >> Carson River >> Middle Carson River Assessment

Project:  Middle Carson River Assessment from Stateline to Lahontan Reservoir

Client:  Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

Date: 2004-2008

Site Location:  The Carson River watershed is the largest Great Basin watershed in western Nevada.  The river flows for 184 miles and the watershed occupies 3,966 square miles.  The headwaters of the Carson River originate south of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Range as the East and West Forks of the Carson River.  The East and West Forks of the Carson River combine within the Carson Valley and the river flows through a series of canyons and broad valleys toward Lahontan Reservoir.  Lahontan Reservoir is the only major impoundment within the entire Carson River watershed.  Water released from Lahontan Reservoir flows through the lower reaches of the river and into the Carson Sink.

Carson River
Carson River
Project Summary:
Beginning in the 1850s, the Carson River channel, flow levels, and riparian forests were altered to support growing settlements.   Resources such as water, land, timber, and minerals were increasingly developed as these settlements grew.  One-hundred fifty years of river dewatering, channel straightening and widening, levee construction, river bank armoring, riparian forest and land conversion, mine drainage, and water quality deterioration has diminished the ecological condition of the Carson River.

Much of the land within the Carson River watershed is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.  In 2001 the BLM commenced an assessment of the river to: 1) assess the physical environment of the river 2) characterize the geology, geomorphology, hydrology, and sediment transport, 3) assess the condition of the flora and fauna within the Carson River corridor, and 4) develop recommendations for future conservation strategies.

Changes in land and water management are necessary if the middle Carson riverine ecosystem is to be maintained, enhanced, and protected for wildlife and future generations.  New ideas and approaches are needed for flood control, urban development, land use, water management, and river corridor management.  A new vision for river management and conservation must start with an understanding of river processes.  

Rivers are dynamic by nature–migrating, cutting off meander lobes, changing location, and transporting and depositing sediment.  When humans make changes, such as straightening the river channel, armoring banks, or removing riparian vegetation, it sets in motion unintended changes such as increased bed scour, bank erosion, and channel migration.  The spiral of decline continues as the river approaches a more unstable state.  However, with appropriate management decisions, a sustainable river system can be promoted and maintained.  Watch the slide show to see Otis Bay’s computer simulated vision of the historical and potential future of the Carson River.

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