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Planning for Water Resources in the Southern Sierra of California

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southern sierra forestReports and Handouts:

The Geos Institute is working with Provost and Pritchard Consulting, Bobby Kamansky Ecological Consulting, and many others to develop a water management plan for the Southern Sierra that is resilient to climate change.

The state of California has committed to an integrated approach to managing its water resources. This approach, called Integrated Regional Water Management (IRWM) planning, brings together water-related interests to plan for sustainable water use, reliable supply, improved water quality, ecologically sound management, low use development, protection of agriculture, and a strong local economy.

southern sierra mapThe Southern Sierra IRWMP boundaries include the foothills and headwaters of Kern, Poso, White River, Tule, Kaweah, Kings, and San Joaquin watersheds. Throughout this region, water flows from the crest of the Sierra Nevada range west towards Tulare Basin. Many dams and reservoirs store water throughout the region.

Much of the land of the SSIRWMP area is in federal ownership. USFS manages the largest portion, with the National Park Service and BLM also managing significant amounts of land. The Tule River Indian Reservation is located in the southern portion. Most of the western extent is in private ownership.

Broad scale changes in climate are already impacting local conditions across the West and are likely to continue and accelerate in the coming decades. Changes include the timing and availability of water, changes in tree and wildlife species, and changes in wildfire frequency and intensity.

Overall, managers in the Southern Sierra can expect warmer temperatures, declining snowpack, a dramatic shift in timing for runoff, and shifts in major types of vegetation. Changes in precipitation and wildfire patterns are also likely.

Local communities will need to plan for such changes in order to continue to provide vital services to local residents and to support the economy. Integrating climate change science into water management planning is one step towards preparing people for climate change.

On June 5, 2014, a diverse group of local stakeholders and water managers convened at the Provost and Pritchard office in Fresno, CA to develop adaptation strategies to incorporate into the SSIRWMP. These strategies included watershed restoration to hold water at higher elevations and keep it in the system longer. Also recommended was a return to more natural wildfire regimes that allow forests to burn over large landscapes. This would allow restoration of forests, reducing over dense stands, and releasing more water into the wetlands, streams, and rivers.

A final SSIRWM Plan is expected in September 2014. For more information and updates on the project, please check back here and/or go to the Southern Sierra Regional Water Management website.

southern sierra landscape

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