The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Group

The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Group

Plumas-Sierra Counties
208 Fairgrounds Road
Quincy, CA 95971

Background
The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management group (FR CRM) is an alliance of natural resource management agencies, local land owners, private interests, and the public that works on restoration of the East Branch of the North Fork (EBNFFR) and the Middle Fork of the Feather River watersheds. These two watersheds cover 3,222 square miles and straddle the crest of the Sierra Nevada, draining west into the Sacramento River and the Central Valley of California.

Fifty percent of the land is publicly owned and administered by the U. S. Forest Service's Plumas National Forest. Open valleys within the national forest contain the majority of the county's 20,000 population and most of the arable and grazed lands.

Much of the Feather River watershed has been affected by 140 years of intensive human influence. Mining, grazing, timber harvesting, wildfire, and railroad and road construction and maintenance have all contributed to down cutting and widening of the Feather's tributary streams.

At least 60% of the EBNFFR watershed has been affected by erosion (USFS, 1992). Many meadows and upland areas have lost the equivalent of 6 to 12 inches of top soil since settlement. Accelerated erosion has caused meadows to drain, lowering the water table and allowing sagebrush to invade areas once dominated by moisture loving species such as sedges and willows.

Erosion costs
Vegetation change and lower water quality caused by erosion have reduced the productivity and diversity of fish and wildlife populations in the Feather River and tributary streams. These changes together affect tourism and recreation (one of Plumas County's main economic bases); reduce the amount and value of forage available for livestock grazing; and increase flood damage to streamside property owners.

Accelerated erosion also affects the distant consumers of natural resources from the Feather River watershed. Sediments produced by erosion travel downstream to Pacific Gas and Electric's (PG&E) hydro-electric system on the Feather River. The Natural Resources Conservation Service estimates that 1.1 million tons of sediment per year are delivered to PG&E's Rock Creek Reservoir at the downstream end of the EBNFFR, and that nearly 80% is caused by "accelerated" human erosion (SCS 1989). Rock Creek and Cresta Reservoirs have been reduced by accumulated sediment to 46% and 56% of original capacity, respectively. This loss of water holding capacity eventually affects the 600,000 consumers of PG&E's electrical power and the 20 million water users served by the State Water Project (SWP), for which the EBNFFR supplies 25% of the total water.

Feather River CRM origins
In 1984, PG&E began an effort to develop a long-term plan to manage sediment at their Rock Creek Reservoir. It began surveying the watershed and tracking sediment to better understand where erosion problems are concentrated. PG&E initiated a series of meetings with the government agencies responsible for controlling erosion upstream from their dams, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the California Department of Fish & Game, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (formerly the Soil Conservation Service), the Plumas National Forest, and Plumas County. As the agencies met to discuss the erosion problem, they agreed that attempts to control erosion needed to be cooperative, involving many agencies both from the upper watershed and downstream areas.

In 1985, the agencies organized themselves into a Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) group. Participating organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) setting up goals and guidelines for working together on erosion control projects across the entire watershed. The MOU articulates the CRM goals of:

  • Identifying erosion sources,
  • Coordinating between public and private landowners,
  • Implementing erosion control projects where practical,
  • Ensuring project cost effectiveness for contributors, and
  • Developing a cooperative regional erosion control plan.

Coordinated Resource Management promotes an integrated approach to watershed restoration. Actions taken by government agencies are coordinated around specific on the ground projects. The contributions of each agency or individual are leveraged by the contributions of others, increasing cost effectiveness. This enhances the credibility, visibility, and funding opportunities for the group. There are currently over 30 active CRM groups operating at the local level in California. The Feather River CRM was developed to encourage local initiative and participation in resource management and to coordinate requests for Federal and State technical and financial assistance. Representatives of 21 organizations including resource management and regulatory agencies, local technical experts, local government officials, and an association of private land owners serve on the steering committee, project technical assistance committees, and management committees. In addition to the agencies that have signed the MOU, numerous other county agencies, private consultants, community groups, and students have worked together on CRM projects.

CRM structure and process
The Feather River CRM is composed of three main committees; the Executive Committee, Management Committee, and Steering Committee. In addition, four sub-committees, with open membership, exist as arms of the Management Committee. They are the Projects, Finance, Design, and Monitoring sub-committees.

The Executive Committee is responsible for policy guidance and dispute resolution, and support in the political arena. The Management Committee is responsible for administration of projects. The Steering Committee is composed of representatives from each contributing organization who review program status, approve new projects, and interact with landowners.

Ideally, all affected parties necessary to implement long-term, comprehensive solutions are involved at the beginning of the project planning process. Since participation in the CRM is voluntary, participants must recognize that the value of benefits they will receive outweigh the value of their contributions. All decision-making on project prioritization is based on consensus, with ultimate control resting in the hands of the land owners. Public and private landowners should take the lead on projects on their own lands, developing project goals and providing land use history information. All participants, including technical experts, investors and regulators need to agree to attempt to achieve shared goals, assist in securing required project permits, and use monitoring to document the success or failure of the restoration project.

Once a project is endorsed, a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) of resource specialists, landowners, interest groups and anyone with a specific interest in the site is formed to evaluate the site and design the project. Implementation and funding requests are coordinated by Plumas Corporation, the local non-profit economic development corporation.

CRM Accomplishments
Since the Feather River CRM's inception in 1985, CRM members have cooperated on over 40 watershed projects including studies and assessments, resource management plans, on-the-ground restoration projects, and educational efforts. Intensive water quality and channel condition inventories have been conducted on approximately 40% of the EBNFFR watershed. Projects have included restoration of an urban stream and an abandoned mine, meadow re-watering, check dam building, and installation of fish ladders. At least 14.5 miles of stream and 4,000 riparian acres have been treated, producing 94 full or part time jobs. Stream bank stabilization, decreases in erosion, and increases in water table height and wildlife habitat quality have been documented for some projects.

One focus of the CRM has been to test innovative restoration techniques using demonstration projects. As with any innovative technology, projects have not always been as successful as hoped. However, lessons learned from less successful projects can be used to add to the knowledge base of the locally emerging field of watershed restoration.

CRM activities have also lead to the establishment of the first community college watershed management technician program in California at Feather River College in Quincy. Local high school students are also gaining scientific knowledge and skills through their involvement in project monitoring.

CRM Funding
Over $4,100,000 has been spent on CRM restoration and research projects since 1985. CRM projects have been carried out using a mix of funds and in-kind contributions from PG&E, landowners, government agencies, state and federal grant programs, and private donors. Pacific Gas & Electric company has invested approximately $1.1 million in erosion control projects since 1984 and anticipates that over the long-term, erosion control projects may reduce waterborne sediment delivery to Rock Creek and Cresta Reservoirs by as much as 50%. (Harrison and Lindquist, 1995).

Future goals
In addition to continuing with implementation of new restoration projects, the CRM has proposed a strategy for addressing erosion problems throughout the entire watershed. The erosion control strategy, developed in 1994, is a systematic method for coordinating resource restoration and management on a sub-watershed, watershed, and landscape scale (USFS 1994). The strategy identifies streams with high erosion potential and prioritizes areas where erosion control measures would be best implemented. The CRM has been actively seeking new funding mechanisms to implement this restoration strategy. One source being explored is reinvestment in the watershed by downstream water users, with user fees or some other funding mechanism. Until such a broad reaching plan can be implemented, Feather River CRM members plan to continue working to control erosion in the Feather River watershed on a project by project basis.

References

California Department of Water Resources, Draft North Fork and Middle Fork Feather River Watershed Report, November 1994. 77 p.

Pacific Gas & Electric, Hydro Power Benefits of Cooperative Watershed Management. Harrison, Larry L., and Lindquist, Donna L. Prepared for the 1995 Waterpower Conference, held by the American Society of Civil Engineers in Boston, Massachusetts, July 1995. 11 p.

United States Soil Conservation Service, East Branch North Fork Feather River, Erosion Inventory Report, California Bulletin No. CA 150-9-5, February, 1989, 26 p.

United States Forest Service, Stream Classification and Channel Condition Survey, with an Inventory of Sediment Sources from Roads and Stream Crossings, Conducted in the Last Chance and Spanish Creek Watersheds. Plumas National Forest. September 1992.

United States Forest Service, East Branch North Fork Feather River Erosion Control Strategy. Clay Clifton, Plumas National Forest. September 1994. 85 p.

For more information contact:
Plumas Corporation
P.O. Box 3880
Quincy, CA 95971
(916) 283-3739

Fact sheet produced by the University of California Cooperative Extension with funding by the California Biodiversity Council, March 1996.