Caring for the Yuba During a Drought

Nevada City Council declares Drought Stage 3 Warning

On June 18, 2021, the Nevada City Council declared a Drought Stage 3 Warning in response to a severe lack of rainfall, which means mandatory water restrictions for residents and businesses alike. The drought also means the Yuba is in need of extra care.

How does the drought impact the fish in the Yuba?

The Lower Yuba River Fisheries Agreement (Yuba Accord) was signed in 2008 and established instream flow requirements below Englebright Dam. The requirements are based on the water year—more rain and snowpack equate to more water released for fish, but in drought years that also means that there is less water for fish.

The warmer waters often associated with low flows subject threatened species like salmon and steelhead to physiological stress. Further, low flows cut off access to off-channel habitats that these fish rely on for rearing and spawning.

SYRCL and our project partners are working to restore rearing habitat at Hallwood and Long Bar. These projects are designed to have accessible features even at drought-induced baseflow conditions. We are also designing plans to restore spawning habitat at Upper Rose Bar, which will also be designed to work at a variety of flows.

People seeking refuge at the Yuba during heat waves

Along with low levels of precipitation, we are also experiencing unusually hot weather. Average highs in the Nevada City area hover around 88 degrees and average lows trend toward the upper 50s. This June, over half the month (16 days) recorded temperatures over 90 degrees, with several days entering triple digits.

In lower elevations like Sacramento, temperatures have often been even higher. As people seek refuge from unusually high temperatures, this means we are seeing more visitors at the river…and this is only the beginning of summer.

 

Rivergoers near Hoyt’s Crossing

Caring for the Yuba

Drought conditions combined with more people makes taking care of the Yuba more important than ever–not just for us, but for the aquatic species that inhabit it as well. 

Knowing that each year brings record breaking numbers of visitors, SYRCL is hard at work–via our River Ambassador program and our social media messaging–to get the word out about how people can reduce their individual impact. Here are four important reminders:

Pick Up After Your Pets. While River Ambassadors have noticed a decrease in trash along the river, they are finding a lot of dog feces along the trail and close to the river. 

Dog feces can introduce harmful bacteria into the river, including E. coli. The warmer water temperatures we are experiencing create a more hospitable environment for such bacteria. Learn more about the potential dangers of E. coli here

SYRCL conducts monthly E. Coli testing at popular swimming holes to help keep the public safe. The most recent bacteria test results can be found here: https://riverdb.org/safetoswim

Dog feces found near the South Yuba in early June 2021 (Photo: SYRCL staff)
Andrew Collins-Anderson sharing the message about wildfire prevention (Photo: SYRCL staff)

Please No Fire of Any Kind. Drought means a single spark—whether it’s from a campfire, a BBQ, or a cigarette—can catch the whole canyon on fire. 

Fires of any kind are currently banned in the entire South Yuba River canyon and are unsafe, even if they are next to a river. Smoking is also illegal in State Parks and is a ticket-able offense. 

If you see someone building a fire or heading down to the river with a BBQ, you can use the approach our River Ambassadors take. Try to explain why extinguishing their fire or leaving their BBQ behind is so important.

 

In California, 95 percent of wildfires are human caused and can be prevented. We can help prevent fires by talking with guests. One of our seasoned River Ambassadors likes to tell people, “As you can see, a fire in this river canyon would be really hard to put out and puts our community at risk and I live 4 miles away.” For more tips on how to talk to visitors, read this ENews article.

Be a Wildfire Watchdog. If you find yourself at one of the river crossings and you notice a fire (which are easy to spot in the evening by the glow they emit), report it by calling 911. If you find yourself in a place without cell service (like Edwards and Purdon crossings), you can use the emergency call boxes. The sheriff’s office is understaffed and can’t always patrol the river, so citizen reporting is extremely helpful to keep us all safe.

Pack Out What You Pack In. There are no trash cans once you get down to the river. This means that whatever you take with you has to be brought back with you when you leave.

Less packaging is better. If you plan to picnic at the river, don’t bring a lot of stuff. Big wheeled coolers are not a good choice. Neither is pizza that comes in big takeout boxes (all stuff we have seen at the river). Bring a sandwich or a wrap instead in a reusable container or wax paper. And please do not throw any uneaten food or food scraps in the river.

Pack a trash bag (or grab one from one of our friendly River Ambassadors) so you have a place to put your waste. If you see trash accidentally left by someone else, help us out and throw it in your bag that you pack out.

Avoid Sunscreen with harmful chemicals. As we wrote about in our last edition of ENews, many sunscreens contain chemicals that are harmful to fish and the plants they eat. This is especially important with summer water levels.

What can you do? Choose UPF clothing instead of sunscreen. It keeps you cool and protects you from harmful rays. If you must wear sunscreen, choose reef safe sunscreen and make certain to follow the instructions (like waiting 15 minutes after application before jumping in). See our article for more specifics.

Let’s all do our part to reduce our individual impact, help keep the river clean, and educate others on the importance of doing the same. If you want to get involved by serving as a River Ambassador for a day, you can sign up for a shift here. It’s only four hours and you will make a difference for the Yuba and all of the creatures that call it home.

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