Bear River Awakening

Academic Tour


The work and accomplishments described in this tour have laid a foundation for awakening the Bear by advancing a comprehensive vision for improving flows and restoring habitats throughout the Yuba-Bear-American River problemshed. We have also made progress on a number of initiatives that will be critical to realizing that vision. Yet much work remains, including the following:

  • The ongoing lack of a publicly-available system-wide simulation model (as has long been promised by, and expected from, the UYRSP) has limited our collective ability to assess the implications of modifying operations and improving flows throughout the region. At the same time, ongoing questions about the feasibility of restoring salmon and steelhead in the upper Yuba system have complicated efforts to reach a regional consensus among a diverse array of advocates. It is time for the UYRSP to complete its work, or for all involved to look elsewhere for answers to these very important questions.

  • The above capabilities would help to "groundtruth" our estimates of the likely range of annual costs associated with the proposed re-routing of surplus water deliveries to SSWD as well as other means of improving flows in the middle and lower reaches of the system.

  • A final agreement over levee setbacks and riparian habitat improvements in the Bear-Feather confluence region remains crucial to the prospects of fishery restoration in the lower Bear River. (The same is true regarding timely release of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's "baseline studies" RFP.) Both of these initiatives deserve focused near-term attention.

  • Our review of the "raw" and "urban" water management plans for both NID (PDF*, 21 KB) and PCWA (PDF*, 33 KB), as well as supply and demand projections compiled for NID, PCWA, and SSWD, suggests that — in most years anyway — there is ample room for improvement in the conservation, allocation, and management of regional water supplies. In all cases, however, care must be taken to ensure that conservation actions (PDF*, 21 KB) are combined with affirmative measures to mitigate adverse impacts, including concurrent dedication of conserved water as an appropriate way to "firm up" at-risk environmental water supplies.

  • While many improvements can be made without impacting regional hydropower production, the foregone costs of such production will nonetheless play an important role in most "re-management" scenarios, particularly in the near-term. Given the likely cost of modifying existing contract operations at the region's aging hydropower facilities (PDF*, 31 KB), it will probably be most effective to pursue long-term changes in conjunction with renewal (in 2013) of the Drum-Spaulding and Yuba-Bear project hydropower licenses.

  • The ongoing potential for divestiture of PG&E's aging hydropower resources suggests that affirmative alternative strategies (e.g., a "regional hydropower trust" to acquire and co-manage those resources) should be developed and considered to ensure that local and regional water supply, river restoration, and watershed re-investment priorities are advanced and sustained over time.

  • An interim series of cooperative pilot-scale experiments along the middle and lower reaches of the Bear could help to implement the commitments of the Bear River Watershed Group grant as well as build trust, test flow improvement assumptions, and build knowledge and understanding about the entire Yuba-Bear-American Rivers system.

In addition to all the above, it is imperative that local and regional environmental, conservation, and watershed groups develop a shared vision of and commitment to addressing river and watershed needs throughout the problemshed. With luck, the Foothills Water Network will evolve as a critical means to this end, and the resources at issue will prosper because their needs will have been addressed through a comprehensive, diversified, and flexible set of mutually-supported options and approaches. An awakened Bear River remains a crucial part of this contemporary restoration vision.

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