“Paint a picture of the watershed as a fluid interpretation of human activities and the place’s own processes.”
– Freeman House, Totem Salmon
The Yuba River Basin contains 1300 square miles of diverse lands, waters, habitats, human activities and ecological interactions. What this area shares in common is a single point of drainage at the mouth of the Yuba River, and in that context, all the biota, water and physical processes of the Yuba River Basin are connected.
Watershed assessments often start with the quantity and quality of water leaving a basin or watershed, but they include much more than that. A watershed assessment is essentially a characterization of the current condition of a watershed. Another way of describing it would be the organization of scientific and historical information in such a way that it can influence policy level decision making and action at the watershed level. In defining watersheds, we provide ourselves the most salient scope for learning about the ecology and interconnectedness of an area. From there, we are best suited to ask important questions.
The Watershed Assessment Process
SYRCL is engaged in three elements of watershed assessment. River Science staff and volunteers work together continually developing each element. These elements support each other in an overall process of increasing our knowledge of the watershed, refining our understanding of important issues, and supporting the development of sound projects of protection and restoration. While SYRCL generally follows the California Watershed Assessment Manual and has utilized expert consultants, the Yuba Stewards program and other forms of direct citizen engagement make our watershed assessment unique
What are the main issues concerning water quality, water supply, ecological health and resource economics in the Yuba River Watershed?
SYRCL has worked with representatives from all resource management agencies, private landowners, and other conservation organizations to develop a list of specific questions which provide focus for the watershed assessment. For example, what are the current and legacy effects of historic mining activity on water quality?
Within the Yuba River Basin, many small sub-basins and individual watersheds can be identified. For example, the South Yuba River drains one of seven subbasins, and Shady Creek – a tributary to the South Yuba River – has its own watershed within the South Yuba River subbasin. State resource agencies have adopted a geographic system, called CalWater – which prescribes 101 Planning Watershed Units in the Yuba River basin. We use this system for certain analysis, but since the system deviates from actual hydrologic areas, we have constructed our own maps of real sub-watersheds. With our Geographic Information System software and technicians, we map the network of watersheds within the Yuba basin and overlay a comprehensive number of data layers such as roads, geology, fire history, etc. To view some of these maps, see the Map Atlas.
An enormous amount of information is available for review and assimilation when attempting to address critical questions. To facilitate this, SYRCL is building the Yuba Watershed Information System or Yuba Shed. This system of databases and protocols will enable SYRCL and cooperators to provide and maintain all documents, data, photos and maps for public review. The organization of Yuba Shed is custom designed to support watershed assessment by categorizing subjects (critical questions) and areas (watersheds).
Story of Place in Watershed Assessment
An ultimate goal of the watershed assessment process is that as a community we can together discover the full story of the Yuba watershed, bringing about an alignment of values born out of shared sense of the story of place. “Place” in this context refers to the unique interweaving of nature, geology and human culture that is the source of a community’s distinctive character. Understanding place as a living system helps reveal what makes the community unique, what its potential is, and what value it therefore has to offer the world.
This shared understanding integrates geological, ecological, and cultural histories-lifting up the underlying patterns that weave them together into an intelligible, meaningful, and inspiring narrative. When the story of a place is understood, it can enable a community to undertake a wide range of decisions and actions to shift economic priorities and initiatives-everything from infrastructure development, to land use planning, to curriculum design, to economic development, to ecological restoration-without undermining the core integrity of who it is and who it is becoming. Because it is rooted in the shared experience of place, a story of place can serve as a Rosetta Stone for articulating common purposes that reconcile diverse perspectives. Such a story speaks to what a place can become, and how each of those who inhabit it can contribute to and benefit from that future.
Watershed Assessment Products
- Lower Yuba River Issue Assmt April 2008 Final
- A 21st Century Assessment of the Yuba River Watershed
- Map Atlas for Rush Creek Watershed (2.5 MB) - companion to the forthcoming Draft Rush Creek Watershed Assessment