2022 In Review — SYRCL’s Successes

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It’s hard to believe that 2022 has come and gone — and yet here we are. For all the challenges that 2022 presented for SYRCL and our community, we continued to persevere and had a number of incredible successes that we thought we would look back on and celebrate.

On January 13, SYRCL released a call to the public for signatures on a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers asking them to clean and maintain the fish ladders at Daguerre Point Dam. On average, fewer than 3,000 Chinook salmon return to the lower Yuba River annually, which is a 99.5% decrease from the historic population size. A lack of regular fish ladder maintenance is impeding the ability of these threatened fish from being able to pass over the dam and access suitable spawning habitat critical to their survival. 

During the 20 days the letter was open, we collected 700 signatures from 28 different states, including California and nearby states Washington and Nevada, as well as states as far away as Alaska, Texas, and the District of Columbia. Nevada City, Grass Valley, and the Sacramento region generated the greatest number of signatures. 

In October 2021, SYRCL created a Visitor Impacts Survey that asked respondents questions about the activities they support at the river, their concerns related to increased visitation, and the measures they would like to see put into place in order to address the ever-growing number of people coming to visit the Yuba. 

In 2022, the results of this survey were complied and issued as a report. The report includes not only the results of the survey, but SYRCL’s recommendations for moving forward. SYRCL presented this information to the Yuba River Public Safety Cohort in February 2022 in order to inform future decisions about infrastructure, enforcement, and visitor education campaigns. 

On May 26th, the South Yuba River Citizens League was awarded $3.7 million from the Wildlife Conservation Board’s Forest Conservation grant program to implement Phase One of restoration of Van Norden Meadow (Yayalu Itdeh in Washoe) in partnership with Tahoe National Forest (TNF). 

Phase 1 of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project included filling sections of the South Yuba River and Lytton Creek and building Beaver Dam Analogs — man-made structures designed to mimic the form and function of a natural beaver dam — in Castle Creek to reconnect disconnected stream channels with the meadow floodplain.  Additional restoration actions included road improvements, completed to optimize hydrologic connectivity within the meadow, and mechanical removal of an invasive species and encroaching conifers. Willow and sedge planting occurred in areas where native plant restoration was needed.  

This restoration will result in improved meadow habitat, enhanced ecological and hydrologic function, increased groundwater levels, increased summer base flows, improved water quality, and increased carbon storage. It will also result in managed recreation opportunities and the improvement of the overall resiliency of the headwaters of the South Yuba River to changing climatic conditions. Additionally, the project will lead to a greater scientific understanding of meadow processes which can then be applied to meadows and headwater streams across the Sierra region.    

Phase 1 of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration and Recreation Project has been completed for the season. The meadow will be open for winter recreation.

The objective of the Lower Long Bar Restoration Project was to remove approximately 350,000 cubic yards of hydraulic mining debris from what was historically the Yuba River floodplain. Lowering the floodplain restores much needed rearing habitat for juvenile spring- and fall-run Chinook and Central Valley Steelhead. The more often and longer duration these rearing habitat features spend submerged during the winter months, as well as the closer the river is to vegetation, the more food is available for the juveniles to eat, drastically improving their chances for survival.  

For this restoration project to have the greatest impact, a variety of habitat features were designed to provide optimal rearing habitat across the range of flows seen most frequently in the lower Yuba River. 

Vanessa Richards, a Ghidotti Early College High School Senior, was the 2022 recipient of the Environmentalist of the Year Scholarship. 

This scholarship, administered by SYRCL, is offered to graduating high school seniors who plan to pursue a degree in the environmental field. Each year, a young river steward from our community is awarded a $4,000 scholarship.   

An environmental activist and outdoor enthusiast, Vanessa has dedicated her time volunteering during our annual Yuba River Cleanup and has worked with SYRCL’s Watershed Science Director, Aaron Zettler-Mann, sorting data from Hammon Bar for her Senior Project. Vanessa is a young activist who has shown her commitment to the environment by serving as Action Lead Director for the Nevada County Sunrise chapter and co-founded the Environmental Club at Ghidotti. 

The North Yuba Forest Partnership is set to receive $34.8 million in federal funding to support the implementation of forest restoration treatments in the North Yuba River watershed. The treatments this funding will support, such as ecologically based thinning and prescribed fire, are designed to promote forest conditions that are more resilient, while reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire and restoring watershed health and native biodiversity.  

The North Yuba Forest Partnership was formed in 2019 to improve and protect the health of the forests and communities in the North Yuba River watershed. Participating partners include South Yuba River Citizens League, Yuba Water Agency, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Camptonville Community Partnership, Nevada City Rancheria Nisenan Tribe, National Forest Foundation, Sierra County, and Blue Forest Conservation.   

On August 4, 2022, a panel of judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overruled the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), re-establishing California’s right to protect water quality in the Yuba, Bear, and Merced River Watersheds for the next 40 years.   

River Ambassadors Count a Record Number of Visitors to the Yuba River 

The 2022 River Ambassador season ran from May 27 to September 4. River Ambassadors counted 54,632 visitors at Bridgeport, Highway 49, and Purdon Crossings while engaging in meaningful conversations about river safety and etiquette with 12,022 visitors. 

River Ambassadors removed more than 6,101 pieces of garbage and 519 pieces of recycling, along with 478 pieces of glass, 393 piles of dog waste, and 299 cigarette butts. In addition, they dismantled 8 fire rings and responded to 9 incidents.     

There were no major reported injuries or fatalities this year during our shifts. Although, a helicopter came to Highway 49 twice during the season to pick two separate people up and out of the canyon.   

Even with temperatures soaring and the air choked with smoke from neighboring wildfires, SYRCL volunteers were still able to navigate these challenges and remove over 10,000 pounds of trash from the Yuba River 

This extensive study found that 83% of the waters tested across the country were found to be contaminated by these dangerous chemicals.  

When testing the Yuba River for these chemicals, SYRCL’s Watershed Science Staff found that PFAS levels were below detectable levels. This is good news, but more work is needed.   

SYRCL tested for PFAS at two sites: Lower Long Bar and Bridgeport. As we continue to monitor for PFAS chemicals, future testing sites will include Deer Creek and Scotts Flat Reservoir. We understand that this is an issue we need to be ahead of. 

This November SYRCL completed our 22nd year of the volunteer-based river monitoring program in the Yuba River Watershed! We had 48 active volunteers who accumulated 886 volunteer hours. We increased our total number of monitoring sites throughout the watershed to 37 this year with the addition of two sites along Deer Creek previously monitored by the Sierra Streams Institute. 

Our parameters include air and water temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, E. coli, nitrates, and salinity. Having all our volunteers complete the river monitoring on the second Saturday of each month helps us take a snapshot of the watershed and evaluate any areas of concern ( e.g. over the summer months when nutrient levels can rise). Through monitoring the entire Yuba River watershed in one day, SYRCL can narrow down and examine specific influences on water quality. 

Our data is available at RiverDB.org for anyone to look at and we encourage community members to check out the data throughout our watershed! 

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