Bear River Awakening

Academic Tour

Strategic Responses

Approach

The following multi-pronged approach was developed and refined in order to build the case for improved flows across a number of program elements:

  • Launch a comprehensive assessment and outreach effort relating to flow improvement needs in the Yuba-Bear-American system with the goal of developing joint recommendations for the re-structuring of Yuba-Bear and Drum-Spaulding hydropower project operations (PDF*, 19 KB) by not later than 2013 (i.e., when the existing FERC licenses for those projects expire).

  • Promote the need for agency-sponsored salmon and steelhead restoration studies below New Camp Far West (NCFW) Reservoir in order to clarify the potential for anadramous fishery restoration in this reach and in the associated Dry Creek/Spenceville drainage.

  • Pursue conditionally-authorized levee setbacks and habitat restoration opportunities in the Bear-Feather confluence region (i.e., opportunities that will greatly enhance the potential for a self-sustaining anadramous fishery).

  • Develop agency-NGO collaborative monitoring and flow-improvement experiments for the middle reach of the Bear River in order to adaptively test (and ideally reduce) the potential for mercury methylation due to summer/fall flow and water temperature improvements, and in order to explore mechanisms for enhancing flows in the lower reaches of the River based on releases from and wheeling through NCFW reservoir.

  • Ensure that proposals to establish a Sierra Nevada Conservancy (since enacted) include the need to address problems related to both water quality and flow, and then explore regional pilot-project opportunities as part of the Conservancy's implementing mission.

  • Promote and pursue efforts to re-route surplus deliveries to South Sutter Water District (SSWD) (PDF*, 20 KB) from the Bear River Canal system to NCFW Reservoir via the middle Bear River reach in order to take advantage of SSWD's increasing capacity for main-stem diversions and conveyance.

  • Reach out to environmental, conservation, and watershed groups who are active in the region and seek to broaden the scope of their efforts to support a comprehensive and diversified regional flow improvement initiative that includes the Yuba, Bear, and American Rivers and associated foothill streams.

  • Complete and make available to the above groups and others a collection of digital problemshed maps as well as a CD compilation of our accumulated notes and analyses.

  • Continue to participate in the Upper Yuba River Studies Program process to build relationships and trust with participating public agencies and to ensure timely development and completion of a publicly-accessible Yuba-Bear-American Rivers system simulation model.

  • Monitor regional wastewater treatment plant proposals and pursue mitigation options through the environmental compliance process if/when appropriate.

  • Explore purchase/transfer of the Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) hydro system by regional water agencies and/or a "regional hydropower trust" to provide improved operational flexibility as well as sustained revenues for water supply security, river and stream restoration, and watershed reinvestment.

  • Urge Nevada Irrigation Distribt (NID) and Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) to develop a public process for comprehensive evaluation of canal lining and piping (PDF*, 21 KB) opportunities to ensure that the adverse impacts of conservation investments on seepage-dependent environments are avoided or fully mitigated.

  • Advance the idea of creating a water bank at Spaulding and/or Rollins Reservoirs in conjunction with the Yuba-Bear and Drum-Spaulding FERC license renewal proceeding, and/or with any regional hydropower divestiture negotiations, and utilize that "bank" to store and release acquired or dedicated environmental water.

Progress through 2004

While it was not possible to undertake or complete this entire "action agenda" over three short years, we are able to demonstrate significant progress in at least the following areas:

Foothills Water Network: The Foothills Water Network was established in 2004 as a regional network of water, environmental, and conservation activists. The FWN serves as a forum for sharing information, airing and resolving differences, and with luck developing a mutually-supported portfolio of aquatic ecosystem restoration objectives for the Yuba-Bear-American Rivers system as a whole. A modest initial grant resulted in the hiring of a part-time coordinator, who is already engaged in bridge-building and outreach efforts throughout the region.

Bear River Workgroup: In 2004 the Bear River Workgroup secured a three-year, $306,000 grant to hire a Bear River Workgroup coordinator. The coordinator's job description envisions pursuit of a 4-point program that includes specific efforts to "enhance and restore habitat, flows, and temperatures to increase anadramous and trout fisheries to sustainable levels in the Bear River and other regional streams." (The Bear River Workgroup differs from the FWN in that it includes both stakeholder and agency representatives whose goals will sometimes vary from those of FWN participants.)

Lower Bear River Restoration Study: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed a competitive Request for Proposals (RFP) for studies to evaluate baseline conditions as well as fishery restoration needs and opportunities on the lower Bear River below New Camp Far West Reservoir. Issuance of the RFP depends on the provision of federal funds through the USFWS's Anadromous Fish Restoration Program in 2005-06.

Lower Bear River Levee Setback: The past three years have seen substantial progress towards approval and funding of a $40+ million levee setback project in the Bear/Feather confluence region. As part of its Proposition 13 Yuba/Feather Flood Control Project, the Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA) is now considering, with the support of CDFG, USFWS, and NOAA, a Final Environmental Impact Report (see Feather-Bear Rivers Levee Setback Project, November 2004) for a preferred alternative that would result in the restoration of more than 300 acres of riparian wetlands along the lower Bear River. The design of the setback project will also meet CDF&G and USFWS criteria for an enhanced fishery and wildlife area. (The Reclamation Board has approved the project, conditioned on restrictions on the total number of new houses to be constructed nearby and the provision of matching funds from residential developers.)

Agency Outreach: We engaged representatives of the South Sutter Water District (PDF*, 20 KB) over the potential for water exchanges and flow improvements in the lower Bear River and in Auburn Ravine/Coon Creek as well. We also continued with efforts to build and sustain strong working relationships with key representatives of NID, PCWA, and PG&E, and with the various state and federal agencies who have an interest in Yuba, Bear, and American River conservation efforts. (Among the concepts explored was a near-term series of "pilot" experiments (PDF*, 19 KB) in the middle and lower reaches of the Bear River that would help to improve our collective understanding of the benefits and costs of alternative flow improvement scenarios.)

Sierra Nevada Conservancy: We played only a minor role in the successful campaign by others to establish a state-chartered Sierra Nevada Conservancy in 2004. We did, however, help to ensure that its mission and authority included actions that would both protect and improve water quality.

Upper Yuba River Studies Program: We have continued to press for timely completion as well as open and transparent calibration and verification of the UYRSP-sponsored water and hydropower simulation model of the Yuba-Bear-American Rivers system. We also initiated efforts to ensure that, on completion, the model will be housed at an appropriate public agency for ongoing public use and access.

Problemshed Maps and CD Compilation: We helped to complete an initial inventory of applicable GIS resources (PDF*, 27 KB)as well as a series of GIS-based maps that document regional water infrastructure, inter-basin water mixing, and the like. Contact us to obtain these maps.

Continue your tour to see recommendations addressing Bear River flow issues …

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