NID works to restore English Meadow
February 4, 2018
Just east of English Mountain, the Middle Yuba River rolls through English Meadow on its way into Jackson Meadows Reservoir. A project by Nevada Irrigation District to restore this meadow is expected to improve habitat for plants and animals — and water supply for humans.
In this broad valley, mountain lions hunt deer and bears feed on fish. Goshawks screech "Ki ki ki ki ki!" as they soar, migratory cranes find rest, and western chorus frogs thrive. Even in summer, the water is "hurt-your-feet cold," laughs Neysa King, NID watershed resources planner.
King is keen on this place for more than its scenery. Meadows have spongy soils that absorb rain, snowmelt and floodwaters, store it all summer, then release that water in the fall — cold, clear liquid that feeds waterways long after rains have stopped.
King leads the NID project to restore English Meadow. Research shows that, by reducing the steepness of the riverbanks and building structures akin to beaver dams, the Middle Yuba could reconnect with its floodplain and the meadow. The ground would absorb snowmelt as floodwaters flow and percolate through the soil. Shallow groundwater would rise.
“In summer, the Middle Yuba is dry up there. There are random pools, but they’re not connected at the surface.”
— NID Watershed Resources Planner Neysa King
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When the natural connection between the river and surrounding meadow is restored, "more water stays in the system, and it stays longer," instead of pulsing out in a rush when the snow melts, King said.
Then, in the fall, the meadow would release that clean water into the Middle Yuba and Jackson Meadows Reservoir downstream. Farther downhill, that water would nourish NID's customers in three counties, slaking an estimated 95,000 people and supporting $98 million in agriculture, according to NID calculations.
Restoration also would reduce sediment flowing into Jackson Meadows Reservoir, saving water storage capacity there, King added.
Gold mines, cattle grazing
It took 160 years for English Meadow to get into this condition.
In 1857, a three-part dam was built across the canyon at the meadow's northern end. Rudyard Reservoir — later known as English Reservoir — held nearly 4 billion gallons of water destined for hydraulic monitors in Malakoff Diggins, according to historical documents. In 1883, the central dam broke, and the reservoir drained.
In the 1960s, ranchers cut channels across the meadow and drained the land to expand grazing for cattle. That led to more water flowing more forcefully through the river's main stem: It cut the banks and deepened the channel. The 170-acre meadow receives run-off from nearly 7,700 acres of watershed, but those floodwaters no longer spread out over the meadow, King said.
As a result, shallow groundwater beneath the meadow has dropped, and little remains in the fall to feed the river.
"In summer, the Middle Yuba is dry up there," King said. "There are random pools, but they're not connected at the surface."
In summer 2017, researchers finished their second field season at English Meadow, collecting baseline data that will be used later to measure the project's success. They logged water flowing in the river; sounded the meadow from topsoil to bedrock to estimate its storage potential; and surveyed wetland plants and flowers. Work will continue this summer.
Since 2000, NID has invested $125,000 into the project, which included the cutting of encroaching lodgepole pines. The next phase is expected to cost another $280,000, covering environmental review, project design and permits. To help fund that, King has applied for a $160,000 grant from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Partners include researchers from California State University, Sacramento; Plumas Corp. in Quincy, Calif.; and the United States Forest Service.
Trina Kleist is a Grass Valley freelance writer whose clients include Nevada Irrigation District. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530- 575-6132.