Dos Rios Restoration

Victoria Martinez: USDA Intern in partnership with CSU Stanislaus

The Dos Rios Ranch has become the largest floodplain restoration site in California. With the support of River Partners, we organized a series of public workdays to allow communities near and far to participate in restoring this ranch into a natural floodplain habitat, where the San Joaquin and Tuolumne Rivers meet. As our tree planting days quickly approached, our Dos Rios restoration sites were flooded due to a particularly wet winter. While disappointed by the cancellations, we were thrilled to see our project sites acting in the way they were intended – flooded floodplains!

As warmer weather approached, we were eager to return to the ranch and continue the restoration. Despite the inevitable valley heat, 70 individuals attended our work days to participate in any way they could. With tree planting season passed, we dedicated our efforts to maintain valley oak trees already planted by removing weeds competing for their space. In addition, milk weed was planted at one of the nesting sites to create habitat for the monarch butterfly. Despite all the setbacks, we shared some of our most successful restoration days yet with members of our community.

We are also very excited about the addition of a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) for our water quality monitoring program. This document ensures that all data collection will be carried out under the same sampling methods, regardless of who participates. We’re excited for this new aspect of the monitoring program as it will allow more individuals from riverside communities to participate in our water quality monitoring program. The QAPP will also validate our data collection allowing it to be used for research purposes by not only the trust, but members of the community and universities interested in watershed research.

Patience, Persistence, and Perseverance Pays

By Patrick Koepele

Back in 2009, the State Water Board initiated an update of the Bay Delta Plan. Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor and the iPhone had only been around for about 1 ½ years. We are now 10 years in to the Bay Delta Plan process, and although Phase 1, which dealt with the San Joaquin River and its tributaries was completed late last year, Phase 2, which deals with the Sacramento River and Delta outflows, is still ongoing, and Phase 3, during which the board will actually implement the plan and require new river flows, has not yet begun.

Back in 2011, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) began the process of relicensing the Don Pedro Dam. Jerry Brown had just begun his second stint as Governor and Siri become the voice of iPhones. We are now 8 years in to what is supposed to be a 5 year process. FERC’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was issued in February of this year but when a Final EIS will be released is unknown. The date of a new license for Don Pedro Dam is even more nebulous, since it depends on receiving approval from the State, which the State is unlikely to do until it has completed the Bay Delta Plan update!

When I began working for the Trust, one of my first projects was the Big Bend Project, which took about 6 years to work through acquiring the property, planning and permitting, and the actual restoration work. Working to buy the Dos Rios Ranch took us 10 years to complete; restoration work has been ongoing for the past 7 years and will likely continue for several years more. Removing Dennett Dam was a 9 year process, soup to nuts.

The point is not to depress you, but to impress upon you how long restoring a river can take. As Mary Oliver admonishes in her poem At the River Clarion, “Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.”

As I have experienced so many times while raising kids, the house can get pretty thoroughly turned upside down in seemingly minutes, and then we spend many hours putting it all back together. While I exaggerate somewhat, if this ratio of destruction to restoration time applies to the river, we are looking at many years of work ahead of us!

I am so grateful that so many of you are dedicated to the river! And so many of you are persistent and determined to see it protected and restored despite the seemingly endless policy proceedings and permitting processes required to enact real restoration. Together we have accomplished many good things and together we will have many more victories ahead of us!

Rivers aren’t restored in a few weeks, days, or months, but we can be the generation that took a bold stand to protect these incredible places and resources. Thank you for standing by TRT’s side as we continually work to improve the health of the river!

For the river,

PATRICK KOEPELE

From the Tuolumne to the Sea

By Maya Akkaraju

The world’s water systems — from lakes to rivers to the open ocean to the clouds — are deeply interconnected. The Tuolumne River is no different, and these connections only strengthen the case for preserving our beautiful waterway.

The Tuolumne begins in the Sierra Nevada and winds its way down to the Central Valley where it meets the San Joaquin River. From there, the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River come together to form the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, where they feed into the San Francisco Bay and out to the Pacific Ocean. These connections are crucial, and life in the watershed — including us — relies on river-to-ocean networks. The nature of this network means that protecting the Tuolumne has a bigger impact than on the river alone — it helps protect the health of the river’s wildlife and the ocean. 

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is rich with wildlife. According to The Nature Conservancy, over 750 species of plants and animals rely on the habitats in and surrounding the estuary, including the Tuolumne’s fall-run Chinook salmon. 

After hatching in the river’s gravel beds, where the water is shallow and oxygen-rich, these salmon spend around half a year growing in floodplains (like the ones we’re helping restore at Dos Rios Ranch in Modesto). Once they become smolt, the salmon are ready to migrate out to sea. As a part of their migration, the fish utilize the brackish Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water to acclimate to a saltwater environment before moving through the bay and out to the Pacific Ocean. 

During their life cycle, Chinook salmon play an important role in the flow of nutrients between the ocean and river. While in the ocean, salmon are a critical food source for important species, such as Orca whales. Salmon spend about two and a half years maturing in the ocean before returning to the river to breed. After making the long journey back upstream — and spawning in the Tuolumne in the fall, the male and female fish both die.

The death of adult salmon is an essential part of what makes them a keystone species in this ecosystem — they fuel the food web, supporting a multitude of species and distributing nutrients they brought back to the river from the ocean. 

When Chinook salmon die, some act as an important food source for bears and scavengers. Others are eaten by aquatic insects, which ultimately become food for the baby salmon once hatched. In this way, the lifecycle of fall-run Chinook salmon is set up in the most beneficial way possible for the propagation of their species and to continue the flow of nutrients between oceans and rivers.

Although salmon aid in nutrient flows from the ocean to the river, in many water systems nutrients primarily flow the opposite way. The nutrients that rivers deliver to oceans include nitrogen and phosphorous, both of which are commonly limited in oceanic surface waters but are necessary for the growth of phytoplankton, or microalgae. This means that when delivering nitrogen and phosphorous to the ocean, rivers are fueling the growth of microorganisms, which are the base of the ocean’s food web. Through photosynthesis, microalgae play an imperative role in sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 

The delivery system of nitrogen and phosphorus from the rivers to the ocean is important. But this also means that how we treat our rivers directly impacts the health of estuaries and the sea. 

Excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, or eutrophication, in our water system, can lead to the overgrowth of algae. When the algae dies, it’s broken down by decomposers. The excessive amount of algae requires more decomposers to break down, who use the ocean’s oxygen in the process. This leads to low-oxygen conditions that can suffocate fish, and create “dead zones.”  

This problem is the result of an upset in the balance of the world’s natural cycles. The issue extends from the poor treatment of our rivers that happens when we allow excessive amounts of nutrients to be carried into our waterways, from sources like agricultural fertilizer runoff and wastewater treatment facilities. While the nutrients that are naturally carried to the ocean are important, the human inputs exceed natural levels to a dangerous point.

When we opt to protect our rivers, the impacts are not isolated. Our actions towards the river ripple and spread to the ocean, and affect the entire water system and the life it supports, including yours and mine. The Tuolumne River provides our drinking water, supports wild salmon fisheries, and supports our agricultural system. In addition to all of this, it plays a role in keeping the Pacific Ocean healthy, which is why it is so important to keep it flowing. Join us in protecting our river and our ocean.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/places-we-protect/delta/

https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2016GB005483

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28586682

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/phyto.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/eutrophication.html

https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/nutpollution.html

Riverside Community Work

Written by Edgar Garibay and Lauren Barnum

Modesto’s riverside communities are disproportionately burdened with environmental injustices that diminish quality of life and exacerbate socioeconomic disparities.

Simply stated, where you live determines how long you live. On average, residents in the East Central Modesto (Airport/La Loma neighborhoods) riverside communities can expect to live 5 years less than those who reside in the Southeast side (e.g. Waterford and Hughson). This is due to air quality, access, and infrastructure issues.  In the absence of sidewalks and bike lanes (active transportation) that connect residents to open spaces, schools, or stores, residents opt for sedentary activities that contribute to high rates of diabetes, obesity, and heart risks. Another contributing factor is unhealthy air quality — Stanislaus County has one of the most severe air pollution problems in California and Modesto ranks 7th in the nation for ozone pollution.

To address these environmental injustices, we have been working alongside leaders from the Airport Neighborhood and various community partners through a variety of forums that encourage and support residents as they get involved in public processes to improve their neighborhoods and quality of life.

A major victory came to fruition last year, when the Airport Neighborhood received a nearly $5 million Active Transportation grant from the State that will provide much needed sidewalks and safe bicycle and pedestrian routes in the neighborhood and the river parks. This grant also includes $500,000 for a new river pavilion, learning theater, and trail leading to the Tuolumne River.  

These types of successes in the Airport Neighborhood provide an opportunity to expand our collaborations that will bring much needed investment and positive change for riverside communities. It takes collaboration, trust, and determination to keep fighting for these victories. We could not continue this work without the many partners we work with daily, and are grateful for the foundations, businesses, organizations, and individuals that support this work.

Voluntary Agreements

By Peter Drekmeier

On December 12, 2018, the State Water Board adopted new flow standards for the lower San Joaquin River and its three major tributaries, including the Tuolumne. In the real world of competing interests for water, we were pleased the Board approved the staff recommendation of 30-50% unimpaired flow between February and June, starting at 40%. This culminated many years of hard work.

Also at the December meeting, the Water Board left the door open for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and Department of Water Resources (DWR) to continue exploring voluntary agreements (VAs) between the State, water agencies and a few environmental organizations. If the Water Board determines the VAs could achieve the environmental objectives they are obligated to enforce, they could adopt them in lieu of the unimpaired flow approach.

In March, the state agencies released a framework for the VAs that relied heavily on non-flow measures, such as habitat restoration and predator suppression. In response, TRT joined several other environmental and fishing groups in releasing an analysis of the proposal. Among other things, we found that the VAs:

  • Double-count habitat restoration projects that are already required or planned using existing funds.
  • Fail to provide sufficient flow increases to protect and restore the Bay-Delta estuary.
  • Fail to include restrictions on Delta pumping that are necessary to prevent the Central Valley Project and State Water Project from diverting additional flows from the San Joaquin’s tributaries.
  • Fail to include investments in water supply reliability that would help cities and farms adapt to a future with less water diverted from the Bay-Delta estuary.

To read the NGO analysis, type “Smoke and Mirrors” in the search bar on our website. 

The VA proposal for the Tuolumne relies heavily on the suppression of non-native predators, such as bass. However, in licensing proceedings for Don Pedro and La Grange Dams – which are happening in parallel with the Bay Delta Plan – the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined, “We do not recommend the permanent barrier/counting weir or implementing a predator control and suppression plan because they would not likely be effective and could have adverse effects on federally listed steelhead. Similar predator removal efforts by the California Department of Water Resources did not noticeably reduce salmon mortality, and the permanent barrier/counting weir could act as a migration barrier to salmonids.”

Clearly, a lot more work needs to be done.