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General Description| Plan| Development| Benefits

General Description

The Washoe  Project comprises the drainage basins of the Truckee and lower Carson Rivers. The project covers an area in west central Nevada that includes the cities of Reno, Sparks and Fallon, and the Town of Fernley. The project also covers a small portion of east central California in the vicinity of Lake Tahoe, including the cities of Truckee, Tahoe City, and South Lake Tahoe. The project was designed to improve the regulation of runoff from the Truckee and lower Carson River systems. It also provides fishery uses, flood protection, fish and wildlife benefits, and recreation development.

The Truckee and the lower Carson Rivers and their tributaries are the principal streams in the project area. The rivers drain the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada and are fed primarily by melting snow. The flows are high in the spring but drop sharply after midsummer.

Major features of the project include Prosser Creek, Stampede, and Marble Bluff Dams, and Pyramid Lake Fishway, now in operation.

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The Washoe Project was designed to develop water supplies to meet additional needs by conserving excess runoff in project reservoirs, and by saving water now lost to non-beneficial evaporation and transpiration. The plan also calls for the use of storage capability to regulate flows for such non-consumptive purposes as flood control, fishery improvement, and power production.

Facility Descriptions

Prosser Creek Dam and Reservoir, completed in 1962, are located on Prosser Creek approximately 1.5 miles above the confluence of Prosser Creek and the Truckee River. The dam, a zoned earthfill structure, has a height of 163 feet and a crest length of 1,830 feet. The reservoir has a capacity of 29,800 acre feet. Up to 20,000 acre-feet of this amount is required for flood control purposes from November through June. Water stored in the reservoir is used in an exchange of releases with Lake Tahoe to improve fishery flows in the Truckee River, principally in the reach from Lake Tahoe to the mouth of Donner Creek. Sites in the reservoir vicinity have been developed for recreational use and the reservoir provides a fishery.

Completed in 1970, Stampede Dam and Reservoir are located on the Little Truckee River immediately below the mouth of Davies Creek and approximately 8 miles above the confluence of the Little Truckee and Truckee Rivers. The dam is a zoned earthfill structure with a height of 239 feet, a crest length of 1,511 feet, and an embankment volume of 4.5 million cubic yards.

The reservoir, with a capacity of 226,500 acrefeet, provides flood control, recreation, a reservoir fishery, and a supplemental water supply to improve spawning habitat conditions on the lower Truckee River for endangered or threatened Pyramid Lake fish. The reservoir has 3,452 surface acres of water and 29 miles of shoreline.

The reservoir provides water primarily for fishery enhancement along the Truckee River and Pyramid Lake Fishway facilities operation.   The reservoir also provides flood control, recreation, a reservoir fishery, and other fishery improvements on the main Truckee River, Little Truckee River, and Boca Reservoir.

 The dam is owned and operated by Reclamation and is part of the Washoe Project.


Marble Bluff Dam and Pyramid Lake Fishway, completed in 1975, are in the Pyramid Lake Paiute Reservation on the Truckee River about 3.5 miles upstream from Pyramid Lake. The dam is a zoned earthfill structure with a height of 35 feet and a crest length of 1,622 feet. It serves as a heading for flows through the Pyramid Lake Fishway, which allows fish to migrate past the Truckee River delta during low lake levels and low flows. It also functions to check headward down cutting of the river channel and to halt erosion of lands on the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation.

The fishway extends from Marble Bluff Dam about 3 miles to Pyramid Lake. With a capacity of 50 cubic feet per second, the fishway provides a passageway for Pyramid Lake fish to move up into the Truckee River for spawning and return to the lake. Water developed by the Stampede Division of the project provides supplemental flows to facilitate functioning of the fishway during years of low lake levels and low streamflows.

Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe completed work on a major modification to the fish handling facility at Marble Bluff Dam in 1999. The fish handling facility was modified to provide a more efficient and reliable passage for the endangered Cuiui from Pyramid Lake to their historic spawning ground in the Truckee River. The modified facility will handle approximately 10 times the number of fish per hour.

Flooding in January 1997 damaged the existing rock armoring of the dam, and Reclamation, in conjunction with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, repaired Marble Bluff Dam in 1998. The 1997 flooding caused extensive scouring in the channel downstream of the dam, altering the river hydraulics. A rock armored channel was constructed in 1998 to improve fish access to the fish handling structure.

Operating Agencies

  • Reclamation operates Prosser Creek, Stampede, and Marble Bluff Dams.
  • The Fish and Wildlife Service operates Pyramid Lake Fishway.

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Irrigation in the Truckee Meadows was initiated by settlers in 1861. Soon after 1900, the demand for irrigation water in western Nevada resulted in water appropriations exceeding summer flows.

Agricultural enterprises have been made possible by numerous small reclamation developments constructed by private interests, and by the Newlands and Truckee Storage Projects constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation. Existing Reclamation developments have contributed materially to the progress of the project area. The natural distribution of the water supply, however, is still a serious problem and a deterrent to future growth. Despite water surpluses in certain areas, large acreages of farmland receive water only in the spring and suffer severe shortages in the summer months. Spring runoff and heavy rains often cause disastrous floods by the Truckee and Carson Rivers. These floods damage property, are a source of pollution in the cities of Reno and Sparks, destroy property along the Lake Tahoe shoreline, and curtail production by inundating farmlands.


Establishment of stream gaging stations on the Truckee River and its tributaries by the Powell irrigation investigation in 1899 was one of the first steps toward investigating the overall potential water supplies of the area. Reclamation issued a status report in December 1952 summarizing results of reconnaissance investigations made in the Washoe Project area. The report compared three possible plans for obtaining comprehensive development of the Truckee and Carson Rivers and served as a basis for selecting the adopted development plan. The adopted plan was outlined in a feasibility report of September 1954.


The project was authorized by Public Law 858, 84th Congress, 2d session, August 1, 1956, as amended August 21, 1958, by Public Law 85-706.


Construction of Prosser Creek Dam, the initial feature of the Washoe Project, began in May 1960 and was completed in November 1962. Work began in early November 1966 on Stampede Dam and Reservoir and was completed in February 1970. Marble Bluff Dam and Pyramid Lake Fishway construction work was started in December 1973 and completed in October 1975. Stampede Powerplant was completed in 1987 with a capacity of 3,650 kW. The proposed Stillwater Wildlife Area Facilities have not been constructed.

Recent Developments

Truckee River Operating Aggreement

The current control and beneficial use of the Truckee River are the result of a long history of constructing and managing water storage and diversion facilities. The operating constraints of these facilities are defined by the exercise of water rights, court decrees, agreements, and regulations. Some key operating constraints include the Truckee River General Electric Decree, Truckee River Agreement, Orr Ditch Decree, Tahoe-Prosser Exchange Agreement, Newlands Project Operating Criteria and Procedures (OCAP), and the Preliminary Settlement Agreement (PSA). The PSA, entered into in 1989 by Sierra Pacific and the Pyramid Lake Tribe, is an agreement to change the operation of Federal reservoirs and the exercise of Truckee River water rights to (1) improve spawning conditions for the Pyramid Lake fishes and (2) provide additional M&I water for the Reno-Sparks area during drought periods. Many provisions of the PSA have not yet been implemented and will be implemented only through the Truckee River Operating Agreement (TROA).

The Truckee River Operating Agreement is expected to be completed in late 2000 after almost 10 years of negotiation. TROA will allow more flexible use of a series of Truckee River reservoirs, resulting in an array of new benefits including:

1. Substantial drought protection for the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area

2. Municipal and industrial storage to aid Fernley

3. Improved instream flows in the Truckee River

4. Improved recreational levels in California reservoirs

5. Federal storage contract revenues dedicated to wetlands restoration and fish recovery

6. A permanent interstate allocation between California and Nevada of the waters of the Truckee and Carson Rivers and Lake Tahoe

7. Release of the Pyramid Lake Tribe`s economic development fund which, with interest, is now over $50 million.

Watasheamu Division

P.L. 101-618 dated November 16, 1990, revoked the authority to construct the facilities planned for the upper Carson River (Watasheamu Division). In addition, P.L. 101-618 made all Washoe Project facilities except the Stampede Powerplant non-reimbursable. This was necessary because a 1982 court order requires that Stampede be operated for the benefit of endangered or threatened fish at Pyramid Lake.

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Stampede Reservoir (http://www.recreation.gov/detail.cfm?ID=45) and Prosser Creek Reservoir (http://www.recreation.gov/detail.cfm?ID=38) offer swimming, boating, fishing, and camping. In addition, picnicking facilities are available at Stampede Reservoir. Recreation facilities at both reservoirs are administered by the Forest Service.

A water supply will be provided for fishery purposes in the lower Truckee River Basin. The fishery water will supplement flows in the river below Derby Dam in periods of low runoff to help maintain stream conditions and will augment Pyramid Lake Fishway flows that will enable Pyramid Lake fish to spawn in the lower Truckee River.

Cui-ui reproduced successfully in 14 of 20 years from 1980-1999, a substantial improvement from 1950-1979, when cui-ui produced large year classes in only two years (1950 and 1969). Spawning runs in the 1980`s ranged from 5,000 to 36,300 fish and averaged 12,470 fish annually. Cui-ui passage during spawning runs in the 1990`s is shown in the following table:

Cui-ui Spawning Runs
YearNo. of Spawners


All cui-ui spawning run data are estimates from the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The data for 1997 and 1998 are provisional estimates.

Hydroelectric Power

The Stampede Powerplant produces about 12 million kilowatt-hours per year.

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Last updated: May 17, 2011