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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

California (Section 319I - 1994)

California's agenda includes protecting and restoring designated uses of waters through strong leadership for its nonpoint source program and by helping local governments overcome barriers to successfully implement nonpoint source measures. California encourages support and cooperation among agencies to develop and implement best management practices and watershed restoration activities to reduce the discharge of nonpoint source pollutants to surface and groundwaters.

Restoration in Tomki Creek Watershed--A Local Cooperative Venture

Imagine a full city block covered with sediment 14 feet deep. That's how watershed planners in 1983 described the 21,000 cubic yards of sediment finding its way into Tomki Creek each year.

The 40,000-acre Tomki Creek watershed is primarily privately owned upland forest and rangeland. Heavy loadings of sediment, called "fines," have severely impaired the beneficial uses of the cold-water salmon fishery. First, chinook salmon spawning habitat has been seriously reduced by fines, which smother the spawning areas. Second, steelhead rearing habitat has been severely limited as pools have become sediment filled. Shallow pools hamper fish survival during critical low flow periods. Highly turbid water reduces feeding activity of steelhead, reducing their growth and value to downstream sport fishing. These losses have had serious economic impacts throughout the north coast.

In 1983, the Tomki Creek Watershed Pilot Project Plan was developed and funded with section 208 grants--the predecessor to section 319. The plan called for treating sources of watershed instability and water quality problems caused by sediment from historic logging, grazing, and road building practices, and for stabilizing these problems within the riverine system.

The watershed plan introduced a system to rank and prioritize the 20 sub-basins for funding when it became available. Ranking is based on location, severity of sediment loading, and landowner cooperation. Since then, this system has become a model throughout California. Since 1983 when the pilot plan was developed, the Mendocino Resource Conservation District (RCD) has received over $650,000 in grants from the California Department of Fish and Game's Salmon and Steelhead - Restoration Funds to implement erosion control practices. In addition, cost-share programs such as the Agricultural Conservation Program and the California Forest Improvement Program and funds from private landowners and road associations<1> have secured between $100,000 and $150,000 in private funds to treat several priority sub-basins.

In FY 1990, Mendocino RCD received a section 319 grant for $100,000 to implement best management practices in the String and Tarter Creek sub-basins. Streambank, gully, and road sites--identified in the 1983 plan--are being treated using a variety of best management practices. They include rock riprap, wing deflectors, brush mats, bank shaping to stabilize configurations, exclusionary fencing, seed and mulch, culverts and outlet dissipaters, and revegetation with willow, poplar, and alder. Now, more than a decade later, the goals of the Tomki Creek Watershed Project remain the same: basic watershed restoration. But involvement and participation under local initiative and leadership have broadened, and - cooperative relationships have formed between landowners and government agencies. In addition, landowners strongly support the project and have supplemented section 319 money.

The Mendocino RCD was awarded two additional section 319 grants in FY 1991. A $30,000 grant has provided funds to treat the next highest priority sub-basins, using a bioengineering approach<2> in a variety of best management practices.

Because technology transfer has been an important feature of the Tomki Creek Watershed Project, an $18,000 section 319 grant will fund a 20-minute public education and information video about the project. Produced by the Mendocino RCD, "Watershed Restoration: How to Heal the Land" will feature the basics of watershed planning, typical problems, and types of best management practices used to treat coastal range watersheds. Institutional arrangements and funding considerations will also be covered in the video, intended for the general public, and high school and college audiences.

Water quality improvements in the Tomki Creek Watershed have been difficult to measure because of California's seven-year drought. However, other indicators, such as the restored physical integrity of the watershed and further habitat improvements, suggest that the steelhead fisheries will return once California is back to a normal weather pattern.

  1. Road associations are road maintenance groups of local private landowners who pool together funds to maintain roads with common areas.
  2. This practice incorporates and integrates rock and wood structures with living plants and root systems.

While revegetation is a cost-effective, long-term sediment control treatment, some stream locations require structures to reduce velocities to levels in which plants can grow.

Wolf Creek Restoration--A Model of Cooperation and Achievement

Wolf Creek, a tributary of the Feather River in the lower reaches of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains, was a "sadly rutted stream nearly barren of fish and plant life," according to a report in the Sacramento Bee. Nearly a century of upstream mining, cattle grazing, logging, and road building has caused severe erosion, "sharpening the creek's knifelike force and cutting deeper into its banks. Efforts to slow the erosion by straightening the channel and riprapping the banks only increased the erosion downstream," reported the newspaper.

But today, a state-of-the-art project is combining community grassroots activity with innovative small - technology to repair the results of past uncontrolled NPS runoff through renovation and rebuilding. The goal on Wolf Creek is to lengthen the channel by building back its natural bends. Boulders and root masses from felled trees strategically placed across the channel are designed to dissipate the creek's erosive energy and roll the current from bank to bank. Built-in floodplains give the water a place to go during high flows. The - undertaking is designed to re-establish the creek's natural channel and restore it to permanent good health.

The $400,000 watershed undertaking is being funded and assisted by a variety of public and private entities. The State Water Resources Control Board provided a $91,000 grant through section 205(j)(5) monies and a $100,000 grant through section 319. The California Department of Water Resources provided an additional grant of nearly $100,000 to the Greenville Community Services District. Pacific Gas and Electric Company donated $80,000 for design, construction, and administration costs. Other funding sources include USDA Plumas National Forest and SCS.

The Wolf Creek improvements have also attracted community support. The Sacramento Bee reports that loggers donated their time to fell trees that were donated by the U.S. Forest Service and miners donated rocks transported by the local Army National Guard. In addition, high school students reseeded the creek banks and will conduct pool riffle surveys and measure channel widths in a 10-year monitoring program.

In pooling its money and energy, the community has banded together to solve a common problem. By undoing years of hydrological modifications that have upset nature's ecological balance, the community is restoring important habitats, including mountain wetlands. This combination of elements will likely be a national model of watershed restoration based on mutual cooperation.

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