WIT Press

Integrated watershed management and floodplain protection on the Carson River in the western USA


Free (open access)


Volume 1 (2018), Issue 3



Page Range

221 - 231

Paper DOI



WIT Press


John Cobourn & Steven R. Lewis


The Carson River in western Nevada, USA, flows approximately 200 miles (320 km) from its head- waters in the central Sierra Nevada range to its terminal wetlands in Nevada’s Great Basin Desert. The nearly 4,000 square mile (10,400 km2) watershed is home to about 156,000 people. A year after a major flood event in 1997, local citizens and agency staff came together to form an Integrated Watershed Management group called the Carson River Coalition (CRC). Rather than focusing solely on flood problems, the group pledged to address all problems of flooding, water quantity, water quality and wildlife habitat in an integrated fashion through improved communication and collaboration. In 2003, the group decided to determine its ‘main message’, the single most important message the public needs to understand about the watershed. Over 50 group members participated, and the message was defined as, ‘Protect the floodplain from future development’. Since 2003, CRC members, working with the staff of a regional water management agency, have written the Regional Floodplain Management Plan of 2008 (RFMP). It explains the functions, values and ecosystem services of natural floodplains. Much of the floodplain near the channel is used for privately owned farms and pasturelands. This land use is compatible with the RFMP’s goals. However, the population of the watershed is projected to grow, and the floodplain is beginning to be developed for urban infrastructure. To help focus public attention on the value of protecting floodplains, CRC members engaged a County geographic information systems specialist to map the location of all properties in the riverine floodplain protected by conservation easements or public ownership. This map was introduced in a University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Special Publication in 2015. It serves as a call to action and baseline inventory for measuring progress towards the community goal of protecting the Carson River’s natural floodplains.


Carson River, floodplain management, GIS, integrated watershed management, non-structural, protected floodplain, riverine, storm events, watershed