Name Stream & Tributaries: News
Bright blue and brimming, the photo of Lake Tahoe by photographer Bryan Patrick on the front page of the Sacramento Bee (6-19-97) really catches the eye. In the inset photo, Steven J. Goldman of the California Tahoe Conservancy (a state agency) is showing US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Carol Browner the upper Truckee river Marsh and explaining plans to restore it. Marshes can be great nutrients filters. Keeping Lake Tahoe clear depends on reducing the amount of nutrients finding their way into the Lake.
According to Tom Knudson's article in the same issue of the Bee, Tahoe is a buzz in anticipation of President Clinton and Vice President Gore's visit July 25-26. The quote from Stan Hansen, vice president of Heavenly Valley Ski Area puts it best: "[The visit] is going to highlight Tahoe as a national treasure. It also highlights that we have a lot of work to do."
Sierra Nevada, Sierra Agua, the clean, pure waters of these mountains, eastside and westside, work hard, play hard, provide habitat and are lovely just to look at. We need to care for these waters and the watersheds that receive them. The rain-on-snow floods of January 1997 not withstanding, California and northern Nevada could not do without the precious waters of our snowy mountains.
Rain-on-snow. The Sierra Nevada had it brimming buckets beginning December 26, 1996. In nine days the Sierra Nevada became the Sierra Agua. Ground-zero was Bucks Lake in the Feather River watershed, where an incredible 42 inches precipitation fell in just 9 days during that fateful fracas, producing a peak flow in to Lake Oroville Reservoir of 302,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). With luck, skill, luck, preparation, luck, cooperation, luck, knowledge, and a little more luck, we made it through pretty well, all things considered. But, will we be as lucky next time?
Rain-on-snow events have always been a primary research interest at the Central Sierra Snow Lab in Norden, California. The Lab also did research on cumulative watershed effects, aquatic habitat, and other important topics in the Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately the Pacific Southwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service was forced by budgetary considerations close-out the research program which ran the Lab. That's a shame. The University of California is discussing with Forest Service taking over the operation of the two-acre Snow Lab and the nearby Onion Creek Experimental Watersheds. That would be a good thing.
On an even brighter note, the Snow Lab has produced a some stellar alumni. Since this issue of the of Watershed Networker focuses on the Sierra Nevada, I thought I'd let you know where some of them are now.
Randall Osterhuber is still at the now-orphan Central Sierra Snow Lab, wrapping up a few projects. Randall is also active in Tahoe Nordic Search and Rescue, a private organization that does just what its name implies. You may have seen Randall's name in press reports of some high profile search and rescues over the last few winters. Randall took over management of the Lab from Jim Bergman.
Jim Bergman ran the Snow Lab for 23 years. He left in 1989 to become forest hydrologist for the eastside of the Tahoe National Forest, based at the Truckee Ranger Station. Jim's knowledge of the Donner summit area and Sierran snowpacks paid-off again this winter when he was able to pinpoint a suspected leak in a trans-Sierra fuel pipeline under a deep snowpack, expediting mitigation and repairs.
Rick Kattelmann is now a research hydrologist with the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Lab (SNARL) based in Mammoth Lakes, California This research facility on the eastern slope of the Sierra is part of UC Santa Barbara. Always looking for the next adventure, Rick has done research as far away as the remote parts of China. Some of you may attended the excellent field tour Rick organized for WMC to SNARL, Mammoth Lakes, a re-watered reach of the Owens River, and two re-watered tributaries to Mono Lake--Rush and Lee Vining Creeks--in the process of restoration. Nothing like re-watering a de-watered Sierran stream to bring it back to life.
Dave Azuma, statistician, is still with the research branch of the USDA-Forest Service, having left PSW for PNW in Portland. Dave is now with the Forest Sciences Lab, working on issues of forest inventory and economics. I still fondly remember the help Dave gave me ten years ago as co-author of a paper titled "Toward Correlating California's Wilderness Snow Sensors," work which Dave and Bruce McGurk eventually carried much farther.
Bruce McGurk, research hydrologist, has just left the PSW and the Forest Service to take a job as a forecasting hydrologist with another WMC member Gary Freeman in the Hydro Generation Department of Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). Congrats to Bruce and to PG&E. Networking pays.
Neil Berg, the former head of the PSW research program that ran the Central Sierra Snow Lab and several experimental watersheds is now in the wilds of Washington D.C., as the USDA-Forest Service's watershed liaison to EPA.
John Cobourn, another Snow Lab alum, is now a cooperative extension agent in located in Incline Village, Nevada with the University of Nevada, Reno's Cooperative Extension program. John, with the help of others, put together truly excellent one-day conference in Sparks, Nevada, May 22,1997 titled: "Floodplain Management: Lessons of the '97 Flood." This well attended conference was the third annual in a continuing series of conferences on Truckee River watershed of which Lake Tahoe is a part.
Featured speakers were a mix of academics and practitioners. Video footage of last winter floods on the eastside of the Sierra Nevada set the stage. Mike Alger of Reno Channel 2 News moderated a panel on what happened and why. I was particularly impressed by Tahoe/Truckee Federal Water Master Garry Stone and his frank discussion of what happened and why. Garry's openness to questions and comments is extremely helpful. Others added hydrologic meat to the bones of what happened and why. Gary Horton of the Nevada Division of Water Planning, after considerable analysis concluded colorfully: "The reservoirs saved our butts." Glen Hess of USGS went over the magnitude and frequency of this and similar events. USGS in Carson City, Nevada (email@example.com or (702) 887-7649) has produced an excellent flyer titled "January 1997 Flooding in Northern Nevada--Was This a "100-Year Flood?"
Bottom-line is that after reservoir regulation the peak flow of the Truckee River at Reno on January 2, 1997 was about 18,200 cfs--bigger than 1986, about the same as 1964 and a little smaller than 1955. The Truckee because of its reservoir regulation had a little less than 50-year flood, while the adjacent, less regulated Carson River produced a flow of about 28,000 cfs at Carson City or what was thought to be a 100-year flood. Based on 1997, the Carson River 100-year flood has been upped to just over 33,000 cfs.
How do these kind of flows effect the landscape? Jim Rigby of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology showed some excellent geographically-referenced, comparative slides showing how events like this shape the landscape in long lasting ways.
Rivers reflect their flood histories. Change the flood regime, change the river.
Later in the morning Noami Duerr, lead a lively discussion of land-use planning on floodplains. This well balanced panel included planner Merritt Rice of the US Army Corp, developer Chris Nelson of Trammel Crow Company, federal flood mitigator Jack Elridge of FEMA, conservationist Cadie MacDonald of The Nature Conservancy and UNR electrical engineering professor and Reno/ Sparks area landowner John Kleppe. Dr. Kleppe has captured his ideas in a report titled "An Outline of a Strategic Plan for the Design of an Optimal Water Management System for the Truckee River System (1997)" published by UNR College of Engineering, phone (702) 784-6925.
Another highlight was Ben Urbonas' talk about what's been done in Denver, Colorado. Ben is Chief of Planning for the Denver Urban Drainage and Flood Control District. Denver has done a lot, including setting back some levees, creating floodplain parks, and even building artificial kayak courses for the public's whitewater enjoyment_a treasure-trove of exciting possibilities.
After being further fired-up by luncheon speaker geology Professor Jeff Mount of UC Davis, we split into five facilitated discussion groups to discuss what could be done, the results of which will be complied and released by UNR Cooperative Extension very soon.
Of course not everyone agrees on what should be done, or how to do it. Paralysis is distinct possibility. In the famous funny words of Fred Allen: "A conference is a gathering of important people who singly can do nothing, but together can decide that nothing can be done." But judging from this excellent conference, I think we decided that something can and must be done. Further, the package must include floods, droughts, land use, environmental issues, economics and aesthetics. Here's to John Cobourn and the folks who make the annual Truckee River Conference a continuing success.
On the westside of the Sierra Nevada, UC Davis sponsored a half day session (5-28-97) in Sacramento, California on the Floods of 1997 as part of their "Pause and Reflect" Series. In my view, it wasn't as successful as the UNR session, largely I think because the speakers were all academics--though their were lots of practitioners in the audience. (I commend this observation to all watershed conference planners: when planning you're list of speakers consider the need for balance and for point-counterpoint.) However, I did come away from the UC Davis session with several take-home lessons, making for a well-spent afternoon.
Jeff Mount pointed out that levee failures in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems saved the all important Delta levees from breaching, and the Delta island from flooding. Mount asserts that we ought to consider designing strategic failure into the system as safeguards, just like we put circuit breakers in our household electrical systems. As everyone should know, but few do, failure of the Delta levees has the potential to cause a large and lasting water supply emergency in California. It's the "quiet crisis," potentially affecting the whole watershed clear to the crest of the Sierra Nevada.
Peter Moyle pointed out two things. First, native trout in California are spring sprawners, non-native trout, like Browns and Eastern Brooks are fall spawners. Early winter rain-on-snow event floods favor the natives, since many of the recently-hatched young of the non-natives get swept away in these events. Spring spawning in the Sierra Nevada is an adaptation to this kind of flooding. Fall spawning is not.
Peter's second point concerned salmon and floods at the foot of the Sierra. Salmon spawn in stream gravels called redds. In the highly monitored reaches of the lower Tuolumne River, biologist demeaned the low-gradient redds to be of lesser value and less important to conserve, because they tend to silt up. But Moyle observed after that the January floods the low gradient redds tended to survive the highwater intact, while the higher gradient redds tended to get moved downstream, causing their cargo of very young salmon to get swept away by the current. Who'd of thought the slow-flow ugly duckling would turn out be the swift-flow swan? Reminds me of Aldo Leopold admonition that the mark of intelligent tinkering is to first "save all the pieces."
Making a water quality point, Geoffrey Schladow said floods mobilize a lot of bad actors lingering in the sediment, including mercury, which is another lasting legacy of the Gold Rush era. The mercury was mined many miles away in places like Almaden near San Jose, California, and brought to the Mother Lode to process fine gold. For more than a century, residual mercury has been making its way downstream to San Francisco Bay and eventually out the Golden Gate to the Pacific Ocean. No one knows if setting back levees will mobilize more mercury in high flow events--an interesting question.
And, in yet another effort to learn from the January 1997 Floods, 28 federal, state, private and academic watershed folks met at the Watershed Center in McKinleyville, California for two days in early April and in short order hammered out some observations and recommendations. (See report on this, starting on Page of this issue.
"Whose Watershed Is It?", cosponsored by WMC in April 1997 in Sacramento, California was a great success. Your WMC president-elect Sari Sommarstrom did an excellent job representing WMC on a professional panel with representatives form the American Fisheries Society, the Society of American Foresters, the Society for Range Management, and the Wildlife Society. Meetings like this promote networking. Remember, network or not work.
So, network! If you've reached a watershed in your career or have an interesting tidbit of watershed news, let your colleagues know by dropping a line to Name Stream & Tributaries, c/o Clay Brandow, 1528 Brown Drive, Davis, CA 95616, or call me at (916) 227-2663. Email is best. Send me yours at: firstname.lastname@example.org.