California voters passed Proposition 1, Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act, in 2014. The SNC awarded 17 grants totaling $4,698,280 during FY 2015-16. The grants furthered the purposes of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program, a collaborative multi-agency effort to restore the health and resilience of Sierra watersheds and forests.
The remainder of the $10 million appropriated to the SNC will be awarded in FY 2016-17. Staff will develop the next set of Grant Guidelines for consideration by the SNC Board in June 2017.
Proposition 84, The Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006, authorized $54 million for SNC, with nearly $50 million to be utilized for local assistance grants. During the 2015-16 Fiscal Year (FY), the SNC awarded $842,474 to the Tuolumne River Preservation Trust for the Rim Fire Restoration Project, which fulfilled the $1 million commitment made by the SNC Board for Rim Fire restoration efforts.
Though the amount of Proposition 84 bond funds available for local assistance grants has been fully awarded, there will likely be currently active projects that do not fully come to fruition or that will be completed under budget. The SNC plans to roll any unspent funds back into the grant program to be authorized for new grants or to fund the Proposition 84 monitoring program. It is anticipated that any future Proposition 84 grant awards will be for projects that meet the goals and objectives of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program in addition to contributing to the innovative development and planning of projects that increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration.
Inyo County Lower Owens River Water Trail
In 2016, Inyo County submitted an application to the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways grant program for the implementation of the Lower Owens River Water Trail project that is a product of the Lower Owens River Recreation Use Plan funded by the SNC. SNC staff helped with the June 2016 field trip organized for the California Boating and Waterways Commission that highlighted the location of the proposed project. With funding from the grant, the Water Trail can begin final design and implementation in 2017.
GRANT WRITING WORKSHOPS
In addition to providing its own grant program, the SNC Funding Team helps Regional partners take advantage of other funding opportunities. Free grant writing workshops were provided in nine SNC communities, from Alturas to Kernville. Over 125 individuals representing 100+ organizations and agencies participated. These interactive, day-long workshops led participants through the steps of program development and grant writing. Participants were enthusiastic both about the subject matter and the opportunity to network with other organizations.
“I found it useful to discuss my grant idea and hear others talk through their projects.”
“I’m willing to try at what would have been previously an insurmountable obstacle.”
INCREASING THE PACE AND SCALE OF WATERSHED RESTORATION IN THE SIERRA
Sierra Nevada watersheds are in need of increased restoration. Without it there will be significant adverse impacts to the many benefits the watersheds provide to all of California. Wildfires are getting bigger and more intense, a changing climate with record-low snowpack is compromising the Region’s ability to filter and store water, and greenhouse gases are being released at a higher rate than previously expected -- due to drought, insect-related tree mortality, and high-intensity fire events. There is likewise broad consensus that science-based ecological restoration of Sierra Nevada watersheds must be dramatically increased in order to protect the range of benefits that the watersheds provide.
To address these challenges, the SNC and the U.S. Forest Service launched the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), an unprecedented large-scale restoration program designed to holistically address a variety of ecosystem health issues in the Sierra Nevada.
The goals of the WIP are ambitious, but the implications of failing to act are becoming clearer as tree mortality progresses and high intensity fires continue. The WIP’s primary goal of increasing the pace and scale of watershed restoration can be achieved through the following objectives:
- Increasing investment in ecologically sound restoration
- Addressing key policy issues affecting restoration
- Increasing the wood and biomass processing infrastructure required for restoration
"We believe the WIP has significant merit as the forest lands of eastern California have been suffering from several decades of passive management. We are pleased to see the Sierra Nevada Conservancy take the lead in laying out a pathway that could significantly increase the pace and scale of treatment of this critical landscape [and] help contribute to the supply of water critically needed by both municipal and agricultural users.”
- Modoc County Board of Supervisors
WATERSHED IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM PROJECTS
Internally at SNC, our Proposition 84 and Proposition 1 Grant programs also play a key role in promoting the goals of the WIP by directly implementing critical watershed restoration efforts in the Sierra Nevada Region.
For example, SNC's Proposition 1 Grants program awarded $500,000 to the Upper Mokelumne River Watershed Authority for its Pumpkin Hollow Project, which is a great example of how collaborative process can create a large-landscape forest restoration plan. The use of the Master Stewardship Agreement associated with this project is also the first of its kind in the Sierra Nevada -- an agreement in which local water agencies have agreed to help with forest management on U.S. Forest Service managed lands.
SNC has awarded a number of important grants to support the development of biomass utilization facilities, which are critical to increasing the capacity of wood- and biomass-processing infrastructure. This infrastructure in turn facilitates an increase in the pace and scale of restoration. One example is the Mono County Thermal Biomass Project, which was awarded $215,000 under SNC's Proposition 84 Grants program. The goal of the project is to sustainably utilize biomass resulting from activities associated with reducing catastrophic wildfire risk (including defensible space treatments).
“[SNC’s] collective leadership in developing a comprehensive, Region-wide approach to addressing imminent needs of such an important geography of California is timely, critical and thoughtful. The Watershed Improvement Program is central to realizing increased pace and scale of Sierra Nevada ecosystem restoration.”
- California Trout
FIRE MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING
Several federal and state agency officials, along with conservation and community fire protection groups, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to expand the use of fire as a restoration tool. A careful and expanded prescribed and managed fire program would lower the likelihood of large, uncontrollable fires by reducing the amount of fuel available to burn, and would limit pollution from larger wildfire events.
The Great Sierra River Cleanup and Sierra Nevada Watershed Protection Week
The 7th Annual Great Sierra River Cleanup (GSRC), held on September 19, 2015, was another great success. Over 4,500 volunteers cleared over 102 tons of trash from over 325 miles of river. This event is held annually in partnership with the California Coastal Cleanup Day, and serves to promote good stewardship of our watersheds from the Sierra to the sea.
The 2015 GSRC complemented efforts in Sacramento to raise awareness of the important benefits that the Sierra Nevada Region provides to all Californians. The passage of Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 22 was authored by Assembly Member Brian Dahle (R - Bieber). ACR 22 established the third week of September as Sierra Nevada Watershed Protection Week, bringing attention to the challenges that the Sierra Nevada Region is facing as well as highlighting the work being done to protect and restore all of the resources the Sierra provides to the state.