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NID moves ahead to restore the English Meadow floodplain

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Slope wetland graces the English Meadow on NID property.

(Grass Valley, Ca. July 15, 2021) Nevada Irrigation District (NID) plans to implement floodplain restoration and forest management activities on 380 acres within the headwaters of the Middle Yuba River in Nevada and Sierra counties, California. Project activities will take place about one mile upstream of Jackson Meadows Reservoir, a critical NID storage facility used for recreation, clean hydroelectric power production and water supply for 25,000 agricultural and drinking water customers in Nevada, Placer and Yuba counties.

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The Middle Yuba River flows through English Meadow in 2020.

The English Meadow Floodplain Restoration and Enhancement Project has taken one step closer to realization with the adoption of a Mitigated Negative Declaration by the District’s Board of Directors. This critical montane meadow is located adjacent to the Middle Yuba River about 22 miles northwest of Truckee.

“This restoration project will potentially have lasting water resource and ecosystem benefits,” said Neysa King, NID’s environmental resources administrator. “In total, it will likely benefit downstream water availability and quality, decrease sedimentation into Jackson Meadows Reservoir, improve seasonal release of water from the meadow aquifer, improve and protect terrestrial and wetland habitats, and improve forest health and snowpack accumulation.”

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NID project team members at a log jam in the Middle Yuba River, in English Meadow.

NID’s Board of Directors conducted a public hearing and unanimously approved the project during its July 14 meeting.

“I’m so happy we are doing this. We need to take care of, and put a priority on the environment. The more we take care of the environment, the more it will give back to us,” said Board of Directors Vice President Laura Peters.

Beginning this year and through 2023, NID proposes to construct a series of native woody debris structures in the Middle Yuba River channel; raising the river channel and subsequently the water table to re-activate the meadow floodplain and improve hydrology. The District will treat and fill dewatering channels and headcutting tributaries to promote infiltration and absorption of surface flow, and reduce sediment transport.

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NID staff members exit the meadow after collecting stream gage data on the Middle Yuba River in English Meadow.

In addition, this project will thin 180 acres of dense understory forest vegetation on the slopes surrounding the meadow to improve forest health and decrease the risk of extreme wildfire.

King noted that English Meadow has been impacted by human activities associated with inundation and dewatering over the last 150-years, which has created excessively dry soil conditions, headcutting tributaries, and promoted lodgepole pine encroachment. In addition, excavated drainage ditches allow flows to escape the meadow before they can infiltrate the floodplain, which exacerbates these conditions.

The project annual budget is estimated at $40,000 through 2023. The funding will be leveraged by a $1.2 million grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board’s (WCB) Forest Conservation Program. The project will go before the WCB for final approval in August.

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Project partner Leslie Mink from Plumas Corporation completes stream assessment measurements in fall 2020.

Watershed restoration helps retain water during drought and increases the watershed’s resiliency to climate change impacts and wildfire. For example, in English Meadow if a groundwater recharge pattern can be achieved by reconnecting the river with its floodplain, absorption and storage may be improved by as much as 400 acre-feet, based on geologic assessment of the groundwater basin.

King noted, “There is cold, clear water stored in that aquifer. If we can re-connect it, it will add to the channel as the hot summer months arrive and the river drops down.”

Montane meadows are rare and important ecosystems of the Sierra Nevada. English Meadow has had a long history, and is quite important to Tribal communities. In the 1800s, land use included the construction of three dams. Multiple failures led to subsequent impacts to the terrestrial and aquatic environments. Grazing began in the 1900s, leading to an additional change in land use and other negative impacts to the watershed.

“NID is proud and inspired to lead this important project,” King said. “Hopefully the English Meadow Restoration Project will be an impetus for additional projects to improve watershed health in the Sierra Nevada and help protect our water source for the future.” 

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