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Truckee River Diversion

46 images Created 8 Dec 2009

For decades, this high-desert site eight miles east of Reno was best known as the home of the Mustang Ranch, the first licensed brothel in the United States.
The brothel reopened a few miles downriver in 2006, after the land was confiscated by the IRS and the name and buildings were sold to the highest bidder. Working 12-hour shifts at their new complex, the sex workers or prostitutes still greet customers in lingerie and other intimate wear.
The old property, meanwhile, is undergoing a transformation. Workers are restoring it to floodplain, undoing the damage wrought when federal engineers straightened the Truckee River a half century ago.
For most of its history, the Truckee meandered 110 miles from mountainous Lake Tahoe through Reno, to the great basin in Nevada.
But, the Truckee River would flood. In Reno, where the population had been steadily growing since 1900, and passed 50,000 by 1950, the effects could be devastating.
In the next decade, the Army Corps of Engineers moved to control flooding by straightening and widening the river. The unintended result was that the Truckee deepened in its own channel, and the entire water table dropped along its banks.
Within years, the lower Truckee lost a majority of its native plants as well as birds and wildlife. Only ancient cottonwoods with deep roots survived. Invasive weeds took over, and the river became an eyesore.
More threatening to local residents, water quality declined.
As city officials grew worried, the Nature Conservancy began peddling an ambitious plan that included moving the river back to its old beds, exterminating invasive weeds and replanting forest and other native plants along the Truckee's banks.
In 2000, the $20 million effort to restore an 8 ½-mile stretch of the river began. The old Mustang Ranch is the final piece; bulldozers arrived at the site this month to begin forcing this stretch of the river back into a path constructed to mimic its old pattern.
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