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Collaboration is Key: How One Key Partner Organizes Change Along the Truckee River

Nothing feels more symbolic of human connectedness and the importance of local ecosystems than a river that runs right through the heart of a city. The Truckee River has a vibrant history and is one of the city’s top assets, both recreationally and regionally. Our Riverwalk District is a beautiful example of the area’s revitalization in recent years. Protecting a resource like this requires individuals who understand the importance of the river and are dedicated to finding solutions.

One such person is Iris Jehle-Peppard, executive director of One Truckee River. Jehle-Peppard has been working in essential systems for years. Born and raised in Nevada, she went to school at Cal State University Monterey Bay, focusing on community organization. While in college, she created Everyone’s Harvest, a nonprofit that worked with local farmers to run certified farmers’ markets in working-class communities. Jehle-Peppard has also worked with Cal State to create large community gardens working with marginalized individuals.

“When I think of what's most important to focus my time and energy in my career on, I get most passionate about things that are really essential,” she said. It makes sense her next major project would be the Truckee River. “It’s about water. We all need water to survive.”

“We get 85% of the region's drinking water from the Truckee River. So even though I think people think of the Truckee River as a place that you visit and recreate, it really is where we're all getting our drinking water,” she says. “I think it's our lifeblood, whether you recognize it or not... without water, there is no life.”

One Truckee River is a collaboration of public and private partners working together to ensure a healthy, thriving, sustainable river connected to the hearts and minds of its community.

Jehle-Peppard says most of One Truckee River’s strength comes from the collaborative nature of the work.

“We don't do a lot of direct activities outside of Truckee River Month … We work to understand the challenges, possible solutions, and work the dynamics to those solutions that affect the Truckee River. We work to match agencies’ priorities for collaboration to implement the One Truckee River Management Plan. It's kind of like trying to find the gaps and figuring out how to fill those gaps.”

The Portland Loo in Brodhead Park is a recent example. There was a 3.5 mile stretch of the river with no public restrooms and more than 150 homeless camps. In some areas of the river, elevated levels of E. coli and coliform bacteria were reported by Truckee Meadows Water Authority and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. While it is difficult to identify exactly where the bacteria come from, it was most likely a sign that public facilities are needed along the river. From who would fund the project to who would maintain it, the Portland Loo was the effort of multiple agencies. It evolved from Phase 1 of the River Restroom Project that developed from the One Truckee River Management Plan, a plan developed by a collaboration of government agencies, local nonprofits, and businesses.

It took a lot of negotiations and budget discussions to bring something as seemingly simple as a new bathroom to a local park, but this kind of community organization is at the heart of the work Jehle-Peppard does with One Truckee River.

“The River Restroom Project is really significant to the One Truckee River partnership because it shows the power of collaboration.

When thinking about her dream vision, Jehle-Peppard says most of her work forces her to tackle current problems. This can make it difficult to think about the big picture, but she does hope for thoughtful development, increase services to the unsheltered population, and increased native vegetation along the river. It's about creating a culture in many different sectors of our society where you wouldn't dare think of putting your trash along the river. And then it would be folks landscaping in ways that don't contribute to nonpoint source pollution that goes into the river.”

Restrooms and trash cans are some steps, but what else can we do to engage the conversation about the river? The Truckee River isn’t just a feature of Reno, it’s a resident itself - an essential element of the heart of Reno. Regenesis Reno uses the word Riverhood to describe this vibrant place. If we are to protect this place going forward, it is important to understand how it impacts us as a living part of our Riverhood ecosystem.

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