The Truckee River has its rise in Lake Tahoe, flows northward and breaks through the Mount Pluto ridge in a narrow canyon, one thousand to two thousand feet in depth. While the canyon is narrow and its slopes, especially on the east, are rocky and steep, it is not exactly gorge-like, except for the space of a mile or so, a short distance below Tahoe. For twelve miles the river follows a northerly course, and it is then joined by Donner Creek flowing from Donner Lake. The united streams then turn eastward and take a course across the northern end of the gravelly flat of Martis Valley, in a channel two hundred to two-hundred-fifty feet below the level of the plain. At Boca it cuts through the eastern range with a canyon one thousand to three thousand five hundred feet in depth and emerges on the plains of Nevada between Verdi and Reno. It returns again to the north below Wadsworth, having run sixty-nine miles from Donner Creek, and then, flowing sixteen more miles, it discharges into Pyramid Lake. At Tahoe the river begins at an elevation of 6,225 feet above sea level; at Pyramid the level is 4,890 feet, thus giving the river a fall of 1,335 feet in ninety-seven miles.
The Truckee River receives a number of large tributaries; the principal ones being Little Truckee River and Prosser Creek, the former heading in Webber Lake, the latter in the main range of the Sierras, most of its sources lying in small lakes held in hollows and basins excavated by glaciers.
Until it was contaminated by the refuse of civilization its waters were pure and healthful, but legal enactments have been necessary to protect the stream from sawdust and other pollutions.
As elsewhere explained the Truckee River being the only outlet of Lake Tahoe, and therefore its natural outflow channel, together with the facts that its origin is in California and it then flows into Nevada, and that part of Lake Tahoe is in each state, has helped complicate the solution of the question as to who is entitled to the surplus waters of the Lake. This is discussed somewhat in a later chapter devoted to the subject.
It may be interesting to recall that in 1900 Mr. A.W. Von Schmidt, President of the Lake Tahoe and San Francisco Water Works, offered to sell to the City of San Francisco certain rights to the water of Lake Tahoe, the dam at the outlet, contract for a deed to two and a half acres of land on which the outlet dam was constructed, a diverting dam in the Truckee River, a patent to the land (forty acres) on which this land stood, and the maps and surveys for a complete line conveying the water of Lake Tahoe to the city of the Golden Gate. He offered to construct this line, including a tunnel through the Sierra Nevadas, and deliver thirty million gallons of water daily, for $17,960,000. If a double line, or a hundred millions of gallons daily, were required, the price was to be correspondingly increased.