Water Talk

Water Talk;

the Sierra County Fire Safe and Watershed Council meets to talk watershed policy 113011

In the interest of full disclosure, the author is a board member of the SCFSWC


It was almost a hundred years ago that Mulholland began his project to funnel Owens River water from the Sierra to Los Angeles.  Since that time, water has been an issue between the Sierra and the more populated areas of the state.  As long as pure water cascades from the Sierra, water will be an issue for Sierra County. 


Today, water is of key interest to the state of California.  Developers, farmers, and environmentalists all vie for the water cascading from our mountains.  The water wars of the 1920s have shifted from the ground to the courts. 


The state of California, in order to satisfy these groups, in 2002 organized water resources in the state into Integrated Regional Water Management groups.  These regional groups are encouraged to compete for grants to do restoration and other work on water in the state, essentially, to improve “quality, quantity, and reliability”.  The implication is that the benefit accrues to down stream users.  In addition, state agencies such as the Department of Fish and Game and Department of Conservation also make grants to have watershed work done, and there are federal funds for watershed work.


Sierra County has four watersheds; Long Valley, Truckee, Feather and Yuba.  The Sierra County Board of Supervisors watches all watershed projects in the county, and belongs to the IRWMPs for those watersheds.


The state says of the IRWMP system:

“Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) is a collaborative effort to manage all aspects of water resources in a region. IRWM crosses jurisdictional, watershed, and political boundaries; involves multiple agencies, stakeholders, individuals, and groups; and attempts to address the issues and differing perspectives of all the entities involved through mutually beneficial solutions.”


Not all watershed projects benefit all groups equally.  There are complex rules for watersheds which might involve federal agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries, which can bring significant changes to those along the watersheds, including agricultural users, recreational users, miners, timber producers, and homeowners.


Currently, there is not a great deal of money available for watershed restoration.  Much of the money made available through the IRWMP system is for storm water management and water systems. 


There are several agencies that can seek and receive grant money to do watershed restoration work, including “fisheries” restoration.  Private landowners can do watershed restoration work through National Resource Conservation Service programs.  The Forest Service has done watershed restoration work, as has the Sierra Valley Resource Conservation District.  One of the local groups which can receive grant money for watershed work is Sierra County Fire Safe and Watershed Council.


The SCFSWC is planning a meeting to review watershed policy.  In the past, most of the work the Council has done has been hazard fuel removal, and thanks to great local foresters and contractors, the number of treated acres in the county is slowly growing.  Given the political state of water in the county, the Council wants to proceed cautiously.  In particular, the Council is open to input from landowners, residents and recreational users in the county.


The Sierra County Fire Safe and Watershed meeting will be 12 December, 2011 at 10:00 AM at the Masonic Temple on Pearl street.


In this climate of dwindling grant dollars, increased scrutiny of water resources and the threat of global climate change drying the Sierra, the Sierra County Fire Safe and Watershed Council is seeking to serve the people of Sierra County and their watersheds.    


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