City ditch work prompts federal, state visit

Carson City street workers found themselves in murky bureaucratic waters over the past two weeks, culminating with a visit from several state and federal agencies.

The street department's maintenance and white top abatement along the Linear Ditch between Roop and Saliman streets caused residents in the area to complain to the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The project has had a drastic affect on the appearance of the drainage ditch, which has a multi-use path along its south bank. The ditch was filled with cattails and grasses, its edges skirted by tall grasses and white top, but after the street department work, was left with barren sides and a view clear to the bottom.

Resident's were concerned that the city was destroying potential wildlife habit, and the complaints prompted a meeting Wednesday among the governmental agencies.

The three agencies have various levels of jurisdiction over the city's ditch, mostly because federal and state waters flow into it. Some types of work require permits and notification to the state and the corps of engineers. Jim Harvey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist, was mostly concerned that workers be careful to watch for nesting places of migratory birds.

Nancy Yang, regulatory project manager from the corps of engineers, asked that fill material taken from the ditch be removed farther from the banks to keep extra dirt and silts from falling back into the channel.

"We don't like to let the fill stay near the channel because then we have a water quality concern and that makes us upset," Yang said. "We don't have a problem with your purpose, we just need warning."

Glen Gentry, environmental scientist with the state, echoed Yang's water quality concerns, but said the project was a necessary maintenance that could eventually improve water quality in the ditch.

"For one summer, you'll be looking at a bare ditch," Gentry said. "In three or four years, it will come back and then everything will be back to normal."

Marnell Heinz, deputy street operations chief, said the intent of the project was threefold. As a ditch carrying storm drainage water, it needed to be cleared and its banks shaped to increase storm water drainage capacity. Cleaning the silts from the bottom also protects the water quality in the ditch and the Carson River.

Street workers are also building a path along the ditch that will connect Governor's Field to the Carson River. And then there's the white top, a noxious weed which takes over creek sides and stream banks, killing all other vegetation and destroying wildlife habitat. The white top is a reminder of the 1997 flood that brought the weed to Carson City.

"The best time to kill white top is in the spring when it's just getting out or in the summer when it's ready to seed," Street Operations Manager John Flansberg said. "If we wait too long we'll have the same problems they have in Washoe County along the Truckee River."

The street department completed a similar project in 1999 along a two mile portion of the ditch along Butti Way.

"I don't think the public quite understands what we're doing," Heinz said. "Because of the lack of maintenance, the area could be construed as a wildlife habitat when it's not. This is a drainage infrastructure. We need to be one step ahead of the drainage problems we'll have when the freeway comes through."

Mahmood Azad, development services engineer, said he hoped residents would feel conformable enough to call city employees with questions about projects in their neighborhoods.

"We should have done a better job coordinating, but if you see something you should be able to call us directly," Azad said. "We will respond. We want people to understand what we're doing. We're not just destroying wildlife habitat to be destroying habitat. There is a purpose."


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