Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project

Van Norden meadow, an important Sierra meadow at the headwaters of the South Yuba River, was purchased in 2012 and saved from development by the Truckee Donner Land Trust, multiple local conservation groups, and thousands of local community members who supported the campaign and raised funds to save this property. SYRCL, in partnership with the US Forest Service, Tahoe National Forest (USFS), the Truckee Donner Land Trust (TDLT), and other partners proposes to restore 485 acres of meadow habitat in Van Norden meadow. The restoration will involve conducting key scientific studies to address specific uncertainties about how meadow restoration actions impact meadow hydrology, ecology, biology, and the vulnerability of meadows to climate change. The project partners have been monitoring Van Norden meadow since 2008 and we anticipate that our long-term baseline data will lead to greater understanding of specific uncertainties surrounding the response of meadow hydrology, headwater streamflow, vegetation and wildlife communities, and climatic vulnerability to meadow restoration actions aimed at restoring ecosystem function.

Project Update(s):

The proposed Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project is being planned by the Tahoe National Forest and SYRCL. SYRCL has received funding from the Martis Fund, Truckee Donner Land Trust, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and CA Department of Fish and Wildlife to pursue restoration of the meadow.

Public Engagement

In September 2017, SYRCL and the Tahoe National Forest hosted a field tour of the property. The tour focused on actions that were being proposed in the meadow to restore the meadows hydrology. Feedback from this tour was incorporated into proposed restoration designs.

In March 2017, more than 50 interested people ventured out on a snowy evening to learn more about the meadow and provide feedback about the proposed restoration design. Presenters were Rachel Hutchinson of SYRCL, Joanne Roubique and Randy Westmoreland of the Tahoe National Forest, and Ryan Burnett of Point Blue. The evening began with an overview from SYRCL about the importance of meadows, meadow restoration, and ongoing scientific monitoring at the meadow. Burnett of Point Blue explained the importance of meadow habitat for birds and showed how Van Norden Meadow, even in a degraded state, is providing good habitat for birds and has provided a refuge for many species during the long drought. Finally, Westmoreland of the Forest Service explained the proposed meadow restoration design and provided  an overview of the current hydrologic condition of the meadow.

As the South Yuba River channel erodes, groundwater is depleting habitat for native species.

From 2017 to 2019, several big changes happened in Van Norden Meadow. The existing dam infrastructure was deemed unsafe, and a plan to notch the dam with a concrete spillway was put in motion. Additionally, the Tahoe National Forest acquired the majority of the property from Truckee Donner Land Trust. During this time, SYRCL continued collecting baseline data to monitor changes in Van Norden Meadow. SYRCL also took this time to integrate the comments and suggestions made by the community at the 2017 meeting into their long term plans. At this juncture, it was decided that funds should go towards the consideration of an alternative restoration design approach to bring to the community in 2020.

In 2020, despite challenges posed by COVID-19, the Van Norden Restoration Project made solid progress on an alternative restoration design. The project team created a surface water model to show how this restoration design would alter the distribution of water across the meadow, at a variety of flow conditions. In November 2020, a Virtual Community Meeting was held to share restoration design alternatives with our community. Rachel Hutchinson of the Tahoe National Forest and Alecia Weisman of SYRCL joined forces to present restoration design alternatives, big picture timelines, model outputs on the meadow surface, recreation opportunities,  and invasive species and conifer removal plans.

The restoration project will target many of the priorities listed by state of California’s Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Program, the NFWF Business Plan, and California’s Water Action Plan, including:

(1) achieving the protection and restoration of important mountain meadow ecosystems,
(2) improving stream flow and drought preparedness, and
(3) managing headwaters for multiple benefits.

Once implemented, this project will result in improved meadow habitat and ecological function, improved hydrologic function, improved water quality and increased summer base flows, increased carbon storage, and the improvement of the overall resiliency of the headwaters of the South Yuba River to changing climatic conditions.  The project will also lead to greater scientific understanding of meadow processes which can be applied to meadows and headwater streams across the Sierra region.

The proposed actions for this project include filling sections of the South Yuba River and Castle Creek to reconnect the meadow floodplain to the streams, increasing the groundwater levels within the meadow. Willow and sedge planting will occur in areas where native plant recruitment is desired. In addition, invasive species removal will occur for reed canary grass and encroaching conifers will be removed along the meadow edges.