Water Action Plan places focus on Sierra Nevada | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Water Action Plan places focus on Sierra Nevada

Isaac Brambila
ibrambila@tahoedailytribune.com

As the state struggles with drought and the demand of quality water from residents throughout the state, the California Department of Water Resources released its California Water Action plan updates on Thursday.

One of the highlighted purposes of the plan is to steer away from single-solution approaches and seek plans with multiple benefits, Director of the California Department of Water Resources Mark Cowin said during a media briefing on Thursday.

One of the approaches that may affect the Tahoe area the most is the effort to protect and restore what the Water Resources Department considers important ecosystems. Among the priorities is to restore key mountain meadow habitats, specifically in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges.

With the Department of Fish and Wildlife coordinating with other state agencies, state authorities aim to restore 10,000 acres of mountain meadow habitat in strategic locations, which could increase groundwater storage and provide habitat for more than 100 native species, according to the report.

The two mountain ranges and a few other forested areas in the state are places of origin for more than two-thirds of the state's developed water supply, the report stated. Water from the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges supplies all or part of the needs for 23 million Californians and millions of acres of agricultural land.

As much as half of the water that flows into the Delta begins as snow and rain in the mountains.

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The report also states that many of the crucial watersheds are in poor health because of several factors, including climate change. Warmer climate can exacerbate the diseases and pests that increase risks of fire. Precipitation falling as rain instead of snow can create significant operational challenges for reservoirs.

Furthermore, large fires can create tons of sediment that can end up in reservoirs, significantly reducing storage capacity and water quality.

With the changes, the Water Resources Department aims to have forests' health restored through forest management and prevent over-forestation.

The department also aims to protect and restore degraded stream and meadow ecosystems.

The Tahoe Basin has already seen projects that aim to restore ecosystems, one of which is the Upper Truckee River re-channeling project, which was started in an effort to deviate certain areas of the river where it has gotten too wide and shallow after erosion occurred. The eroded and shallow channels have affected reproductive habits of some species in the area.

To move forward with the plan, hundreds of projects similar to the Upper Truckee River project are planned throughout the state, Cowin said on Thursday.

Overall, the state faces issues with water scarcity and drought, declining ground water supplies, poor water quality, declining native fish and loss of wildlife habitat, floods, supply disruptions, population growth and climate change, the report states.

The plan of action includes efforts to make conservation a California way of life, increasing regional self-reliance and increasing integrated water management across all levels of government.

It also aims to achieve co-equal goals for the Delta, manage and prepare better for dry periods, expand water storage capacity, work to provide safe water for all communities, increase flood protection, increase operational and regulatory efficiency and identify sustainable and integrated financing opportunities.

Still, Cowin said California has a complex water system and that everyone has to get involved for things to improve.

"We have to get past the bumper stickers," he said.

It is essential to promote a culture of conservation throughout the state, he added.

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