Unveiling the Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project Following a Record-Breaking Winter

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Following a record-breaking winter, South Yuba River Citizen League (SYRCL) scientists were eager to check in on the success of the restoration completed in 2022 during Phase 1 of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project!  

Van Norden meadow (Yayalu Itdeh in Washoe), an important 485-acre meadow at the headwaters of the South Yuba River, is being restored by SYRCL, in partnership with the Tahoe National Forest (USFS), the Truckee Donner Land Trust (TDLT), and other partners. This restoration project is being done over multiple phases and is intended to result in enhanced ecological and hydrologic function, increased groundwater levels, increased summer base flows, improved water quality, increased carbon storage, improved meadow habitat for a variety of wildlife species, and improved formalized recreation opportunities. The project will also contribute to the overall resiliency of the headwaters of the South Yuba River in a changing climate and will lead to a greater scientific understanding of meadow processes which will then be applied to meadows and headwater streams across the Sierra region. 

Phase 1 of the Van Norden Meadow Restoration Project was completed in fall of 2022 and 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 the mechanical removal of reed canary grass (an invasive species) and encroaching conifers. Willow and sedge planting also occurred in areas of the South Yuba that were filled using a channel fill technique. 

On June 30th, 2023, SYRCL, the Tahoe National Forest, and the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences toured Van Norden Meadow and began documenting the hydrologic connectivity stimulated by the restoration actions. By using restoration tools such as channel fill, road improvements, and beaver dam analogs, the project team was able to successfully connect the formerly incised channels in the meadow with their remnant floodplain. Countless broad swales that make up the floodplain in Van Norden Meadow have been reconnected and are full of water. By reconnecting the floodplain, water spreads further across the meadow, promoting groundwater recharge, revegetation of native wetland plants, and providing increased habitat for wildlife. This is a huge success; especially given the extreme amount of precipitation the site received this year. The project team also identified two areas that will be worked on in the fall of 2023 using adaptive management techniques, such as  installation of sedge mats, willow stakes and fascines, to ensure durability of the project build. 

Throughout the summer, SYRCL’s Watershed Science Department, along with research partners from Point Blue Conservation Science, UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, and the University of Nevada-Reno, have been monitoring the meadow to track anticipated ecosystem benefits such as groundwater, stream flow, carbon storage, plant communities, changes in geomorphology, birds, and amphibians. These monitoring efforts will continue through 2026 and build on the extensive baseline data collected to date. 

The project team plans to focus on adaptive management and additional conifer removal around the meadow from late September into October 2023. Phase 2 of the project, focusing on the Lytton Fan area of the meadow is expected to commence in fall of 2024. 

SYRCL would like to acknowledge the following funders for contributing significant funding to the project: The Wildlife Conservation Board, Truckee Donner Land Trust, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Martis Fund, a collaborative project of Martis Camp landowners, DMB/Highlands Group (the developers of Martis Camp), Mountain Area Preservation (MAP), and Sierra Watch. 

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