At the Sierra Nevada Conservancy we have a saying: What happens in the Sierra does not stay in the Sierra! With apologies to those who promote a good time in Las Vegas, a vacation in the Sierra Nevada region is not an experience that anyone could, nor should, keep to themselves. The beauty of the region, the open spaces, breathtaking vistas, quiet mountain lakes, friendly communities and the various recreational opportunities make the Sierra the worst kept secret in the west.
And besides, it’s written on your face when you show up at the office on a Monday after spending a week, or at least a weekend, in one of the richest playgrounds in the country.
In addition to the great memories and stories you bring back—not to mention the boost to your spirit and the smile on your face—there is something else that follows you home after a great Sierra getaway: the water.
Some 65 percent of California’s water comes from the various watersheds of the Sierra, making its way downstream through communities, cities, farms, hydroelectric turbines, and factories on its way out to the sea. Competing factions want their fair share of water, and they want the best water quality they can get. Since the days of the great California Gold Rush, clean, cold water has been a hot and often muddy political issue.
The Sierra serves as the state’s principal natural reservoir, storing water in annual snowpack, meadows, and forests. Healthy watersheds also retain water underground, protecting it from contaminants in the air. Healthy meadows have the ability to store and yield significant amounts of water while filtering out sediments and other pollutants.
This year, the Governor has proclaimed the state to be in a drought. Water is in very tight supply. Boats had to be removed from Folsom Lake marinas before the end of summer, for the third year in a row. Farmers in the valley are facing reduced amounts of water for their crops. And some wildlife experts suggest that if we don’t see a good run of Pacific salmon this year, it could be lost forever.
The people of California have made it very clear that they want to protect and preserve their mountain rivers, lakes and streams, and the supply of good, clean water. In 2006, the voters passed Proposition 84, the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and coast Protection Bond Act (the Act) to ensure funds for protecting the State’s water resources.
Proposition 84 is the SNC’s primary source of funding for projects in the Sierra Nevada region, 25 million acres stretching from the Oregon border in Modoc County to Kern County southeast of Bakersfield. The SNC receives no general fund tax dollars; we are supported solely through the Environmental License Plate Fund and Proposition 84. In our short existence, we have awarded about $17 million in local assistance funding to non-profit organizations, municipalities, counties, state and federal agencies for projects that meet the SNC’s mission.
Consistent with our mission of promoting the environmental, economic and social well-being of our region, we look to support projects that get the biggest bang for the buck. For instance, we know that catastrophic fires do great harm to communities, the watershed, vegetation, air quality, and wildlife habitat. The spring runoff after a horrific fire season is not a pleasant sight. Soil erosion can not only damage the environment, it can cause flooding and wash out roads. We have awarded approximately $3 million for 31 “fuel reduction” projects for the simple yet critical task of clearing brush and other fuel in fire prone areas.
In addition to the grants that we have awarded, the SNC has worked closely with various partners throughout the Sierra to promote good planning, assist in collaborative efforts and educate the public as to the many benefits of our region. Representative of those efforts is our sponsoring of the first annual Great Sierra River Cleanup on Saturday, September 19th. This event is being coordinated with many of our partners who are organizing cleanups throughout the Sierra Nevada. If you are looking for something to do that day that will help all Californians, there is a local organization near you that is ready to sign you up.
Modeled after the Coastal Cleanup Day, the SNC and its partners are organizing dozens of organizations and hundreds of volunteers in 15 separate watersheds in the Sierra. From 9 AM to noon, they will be picking up trash and plucking pollutants from our mountain rivers and streams.
Community leaders have already signed up, along with local legislators, neighbors, and others just like you who enjoy pitching in (or out) to lend a hand for the Sierra. If you would like to learn about this event or more about the SNC, please visit our web site, www.sierranevada.ca.gov and see what we’ve been up to in our first five years. See you at the river!