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Sac River Watershed Blog

  • Mar 26, 2018

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    As an individual, there is a lot you can do to be prepared for wildfire but what about our forests? Of course saving lives and protecting property is the priority and numerous community partners including Fire Safe Councils, CAL FIRE, and FEMA are working together to create a culture of community preparedness. But we also need to better prepare our forests though improved planning and management. Healthy forests provide numerous benefits including clean air and water, habitat for endangered and other species, recreational opportunities, renewable energy, wood products, and more. And despite the sophistication of our current fire suppression efforts, forest conditions are leading to fires that burn larger and hotter so that these benefits are being diminished.

    Forest restoration and planning needs to occur at a much greater pace and scale. Fortunately there is a growing understanding that many of our forests are not healthy and that overgrown forests are susceptible to disease and intense wildfire. There is likewise broad consensus that science-based ecological restoration of our forests must be dramatically increased. In 2014, state and federal agencies and officials formally acknowledged the need for periodic fire to reduce hazardous fuels and protect humans and the environment from extreme fires, it led to the development of programs and initiatives focused on forest health and enhanced funding for forest management. This opened the door for SRWP to focus on fuels and fire management as a nexus to watershed health.

    There an immense need and a strong desire to implement forest management efforts in the region including controlled burns, managed wildfire (within managed perimeters), mechanical thinning and pest treatments but we are underutilizing these tools. Primarily we need to shift to larger, landscape-level efforts to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health. Forest restoration and management should be implemented comprehensively at the landscape-level to be effective and yield multiple watershed benefits. Implementing restoration efforts across the landscape increases the range of benefits achieved. A study by the USFS Fire Sciences laboratory found that implementing small, randomly placed fuel reduction treatments across 20% of the landscape had almost no effect on the spread rate of a large fire but implementing small but strategic treatments that complement one another across 20% of the landscape can halve the spread rate.

    Large-scale planning and restoration efforts will require more collaboration among federal and state agencies, and with private landowners. Thanks to recent efforts by the USFS and Sierra Nevada Conservancy, there is a renewed awareness of the need for more efficient and larger landscape planning processes and increased support for the development of coordinated, integrated, collaborative efforts to improve forest health. As a result, we are working with stakeholders to develop cooperative, cross-boundary projects in the Sacramento River Watershed that are compatible with larger collaborative forest management efforts.

    We have signed an MOU with the Butte County Fire Safe Council to work together to establish the foundation for the development and formalization of a Landscape-Level Planning effort in Butte County. The MOU represents our commitment to carry out several tasks including:

    • developing a strategic planning process to support the prioritization, implementation and monitoring of forest health projects,
    • creating education and outreach materials with targeted messaging to stakeholders, decision makers, and the public and;
    • identifying and secure funding opportunities and resources to improve forest health.

    By demonstrating and promoting successful collaboration at the county level, this effort will validate the model for work on the larger landscape and serve as a framework for other counties within the Sacramento River Watershed. This effort represents a tiny fraction of a landscape in need of major investment, but its implications are far reaching. Not only will these collaborative efforts improve forest health by restoring habitat and minimizing catastrophic fire, they will:

    • Help to increase public awareness of the role forests play in protecting critical water supplies for humans and the environment.
    • Build the connection between the landscape and management in upstream areas and downstream impacts in the valley and the Delta.
    • Demonstrate and promote the role of fire as a natural and necessary element in fire adapted environments.
    • Serve as a framework for communities to become more resilient to the impacts of drought and fire.

    It took decades to create current forest conditions and it will take decades to improve forest health. There are proven techniques that can get the job done. We have tools to support more effective funding and collaboration. What we need now are champions at the local, state and federal levels to support these efforts. By developing the right partnerships and planning approach we should be successful in implementing unified and complimentary forest management goals. Our hope is that our collective efforts will launch a successful program to protect and restore our forested watersheds and strengthen the region’s resiliency for future generations.

  • Oct 3, 2017

    By Holly Jorgensen

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    Collaborative management efforts are essential for protecting, restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems. Watershed management requires coordinated policy and management action not only at the local level, but at regional and state levels as well. Successful watershed management should reflect the values of the community and implement actions with achievable outcomes.

    Successful watershed management also requires coordinated data and information collection, and that data management and accessibility throughout the state is crucial to realizing the goals and objectives set forth in watershed planning efforts.

    In March of 2015, SRWP partnered with the Calif. State Water Resource Control Board and 34 North to develop a web portal customized for the Sacramento River watershed. The Sacramento River Watershed Data Portal provides a platform for tracking and reporting watershed health improvements associated with local, regional, and statewide planning efforts and assists our partners individually and collectively by sharing the results of watershed efforts with our funders, partners and state and federal agencies. The data portal demonstrates the benefits of effective watershed management efforts in the region and provide beneficiaries with information, outcomes, and investment opportunities.

    SRWP’s data portal uses the software platform developed for other data portals, including Calif. Estuaries, the San Joaquin Regional Monitoring Program, San Joaquin River Real Time Management Program, The Bay delta: Baydeltalive.com and DWR’s 1641 interactive reporting tools for California.

    The data managed in each portal is managed at the regional level and shared with users of all other data portals, allowing for larger watershed assessment and analysis so that we can mutually benefit and learn from each other’s efforts.

    SRWP’s data portal gives users access to the extensive monitoring data, studies, reports and articles in our watershed. You can compile maps and graphs to better visualize available data and answer watershed questions. The portal will also help the state more easily identify gaps in data to help drive new data collection efforts. In addition to projects and regional data, you can view, combine and download all real time data, CEDEN, SRWP monitoring data, USFWS, CAFWS, DWR, NOAA, CalFire, and more. We also have over 1,000 watershed reports, images, GIS data files and other important resources cataloged and ready for use.

    SRWP is working with key stakeholders in the region to develop a strategy for regional data management and integration. Visual data and information enhance people's awareness of the relationship between watershed management and resource conditions, and that awareness strengthens stakeholders’ involvement in collaborative watershed management efforts. The strategy will include an investment model and incorporate recommendations from stakeholders, SB 1070, the Monitoring Council, the Delta Stewardship Council’s Environmental Data Summit paper, and AB 1755.

    Sustainable funding and investments will ensure the portal’s longevity and facilitate future enhancements including the integration of new data, data organization, customization based on use cases from stakeholders, custom data analytics across various datasets and retrospective analysis. Sustainable, baseline funding for watershed management efforts including the data portal, must come eventually from its beneficiaries through long-term commitments in either or both of two forms: fees and in-kind services.

    SRWP’s current data management efforts include engaging stakeholders in the development of key topics like Forest Health, Community Risk and Assessment and Collaborative Forest Restoration to refine or add to them. The data portal topics represent stakeholder interests and needs that will evolve as environmental policies, laws, and conditions change. Keeping apprised of current resource issues and management needs will require ongoing stakeholder involvement. By continuing to partner with key watershed stakeholders as a vehicle to develop, expand, endorse, and maintain the portal, we hope to ensure that regional watershed management efforts are developed, implemented and effective in achieving desired outcomes.

  • Jun 7, 2017

    By Holly Jorgensen and Stephen Graydon

    (Above: Forested area before thinning and control burn)

    The Sacramento River Watershed Program (SRWP) is partnering with the Terra Fuego Resource Foundation (Terra Fuego) to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration focusing on fuels and fire management as a nexus to watershed health.

    California is a fire-adapted environment, which need managing to avoid the excessive fuels buildup that create mega fires. Fire suppression has created an unhealthy ecosystem that reduces ecological diversity, worsens the effects of a changing climate, and creates significant and lasting changes through disease, insects and mega fire. SRWP and Terra Fuego are partnering to develop the infrastructure, methodology and management practices to address the devastating impacts of drought and increase forest management efforts in the Sacramento River watershed.

    SRWP’s Butte Forest Thin – Doe Mill Ridge Watershed Project uses forest thinning and low intensity prescribed fire to treat 227 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) between Little Chico Creek and Butte Creek in the Sacramento River watershed. Our project will conduct pre- and post-monitoring to examine how pre-fire fuel reduction restoration treatments affect fire severity and improve forest health.

    Above: Forested area after thinning and control burn)

    SRWP has been working with regional, state, and federal partners to address issues affecting the Sacramento River watershed. These issues include minimizing catastrophic fire, controlling and eradicating invasive species, and restoring habitat, and demonstrating the relationship between the landscape and management in upstream areas and impacts on the downstream water availability, quality, and inundation.

    Thanks to recent efforts by the US Forest Service and Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC), there is a renewed awareness and support for efficient and larger landscape planning processes and development of coordinated, integrated, collaborative efforts to improve watershed health. There is also a growing understanding that many of our forests are unhealthy and overgrown forests are susceptible to disease and intense wildfire. Recently, state and federal agencies have formally acknowledged the need for periodic fire to reduce hazardous fuels and protect people and the environment from extreme fires.

    In September 2016, the SNC Governing Board approved over $2 million in grants for projects that will reduce wildfire risk and restore forest and watershed health in the Sierra Nevada region, and included funding of our Project. Funding comes from Prop. 1: The Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014.

    Our project uses an economic treatment that results in a large reduction in available fuels below a community. The thinning and the burn adjacent to the Forest Ranch community are the kind of steps we need to take to limit the risk from an intense wildfire during peak season. This is the kind of project that every foothill community wants, and it’s one that we plan on expanding to other communities.

    Our project has community support and partners willing to contribute time and resources, covers habitat for threatened and endangered species, and leverages existing programs and projects. While the project area is only a tiny fraction of a landscape in need of major investment, its implications are far-reaching. The project will help to increase public awareness of the role forests play in protecting critical water supplies for humans and the environment, demonstrate and promote the role of fire as a natural and necessary element in fire-adapted environments, and garner support for the use of prescribed burns in future large-scale restoration projects.

    Project partners include Firestorm Wildland Fire Suppression, Inc., BLM, California Conservation Corps, the Forest Ranch Fire Safe Council, and California State University, Chico

  • Feb 25, 2016

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    SRWP is at a crossroads of helping to find common ground for the competing interests of water in northern California, balancing municipal and industrial water supply, agriculture, environment, recreation, power production, and flood management needs. Beyond the traditional water dialogue we are working to bring other water-affecting issues into the conversation including fire and fuels management. Our staff and board are passionate, dedicated, and focused and yearning to usher our program into a new era of broad-based support.

    Effective management of California’s water resources is a persistent issue despite ongoing efforts to improve governance and integration. A recent report from the Public Policy Institute of California (see note below) suggests that California’s current system for governing and funding water management lacks the authority and information to manage water shortages and that “coordination failures among state and federal agencies have led to inefficiencies in reservoir operations, ecosystem management, and water marketing, among others.”

    There is an immense need for projects that improve watershed health and result in multiple benefits that increase the region’s resiliency to the impacts of drought and flood events along with a desire and need to demonstrate the linkages between the landscape and management in upstream areas and impacts on downstream water availability, quality, and inundation. Information, communication and cooperation are necessary to ensure consistency, allow for more efficient use of limited staff and budgets, reduce conflicts, and free up resources that can be invested in programs and projects aimed at achieving positive environmental benefits. As a result, the SRWP is partnering with key stakeholders to cooperatively develop a regional program in the Sacramento River Watershed to reduce the effects of flooding and drought.

    Developing a sustainable infrastructure, social support, and long-term funding commitments is necessary to implement large-scale protection and health of the Watershed. SRWP will establish a formal partnership that will assist in the development and implementation of the Sacramento River Watershed Resiliency Project. The Partnership will review and inventory resources and their relevant attributes and develop and apply a vetting process to identify and rank priority areas and resource management needs. This effort will leverage and incorporate previous and current projects and provide the latest knowledge and tools to improve stakeholders’ ability to identify and address resource issues at a watershed scale. Priority will be placed on projects, programs, and events that address multiple watershed issues and fulfill local, state and federal objectives including components of an established watershed or source water plan or similar guiding document.

    Effective watershed management conserves and enhances fundamental resources while providing for the needs of people and ecosystems and it requires cooperation and communication. Collaboration requires a great deal of work and unfortunately this type of work is sometimes marginalized and often not easy to finance. We hope that our endeavor to engage a diverse group of stakeholders in pre-project planning and develop broad financial and political support from federal, regional and local sources will result in the implementation of unified and complimentary management goals throughout the watershed.

    If you are interested in learning more about this effort, please contact Holly Jorgensen at holly@sacriver.org or (530) 781-2220.

    Note 1. Public Policy Institute of California's "Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation" report: Executive Summary and Full Report.

  • Feb 2, 2016

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    (Above) Sample screen from graphing facility in the new portal.

    The Sacramento River Watershed Portal will give users access to the extensive water monitoring data, studies, reports and articles on the Sacramento River Watershed. Users will be able to compile maps and graphs to better visualize data collection results and answer questions about the watershed. SRWP is working with a knowledgeable group of project partners and other stakeholders representing regulated dischargers, water managers, state and federal agencies, NGOs, and tribes to inform decisions regarding the content, design, and functionality of the portal. This effort is part of SRWP’s long-term program to improve watershed health by providing accurate, timely, and graphic information about the Sacramento River Watershed.

    A great deal of time has been spent on identifying, locating, and assessing available water quality-based information in order to identify thresholds for addressing key management questions relative to potential water quality issues. SRWP with support from 34 North and key stakeholders has compiled data sources and retrieved existing reports, GIS layers, photos, and other relevant information from multiple sources and started developing the portal layout including installing and setting up the software, templates, and the server to begin importing and integrating data and information. We also created a survey instrument to gather information about stakeholders’ current data needs and monitoring practices. The information collected from these various forms of stakeholder input is being applied to articulate management questions, access relevant information, and develop the portal so that it provides the best available insight about water quality and environmental conditions in the Sacramento River Watershed.

    Stakeholders interested in the development of the Sacramento River Watershed Portal and watershed monitoring activities within the region are encouraged to attend quarterly Monitoring Committee and Portal Development Meetings