The Sierra Nevada generates approximately 20 million AF of runoff in the form of river flows each year. These rivers form a natural and engineered water supply network providing approximately 60 percent of the state’s water supply. They further support complex instream ecology that results in the Sierra Nevada ranking as the world’s most ecologically rich region for endemic aquatic invertebrates.
Most of the Sierra’s rivers have impaired water quality and almost two-thirds of the region’s 67 aquatic habitat types are declining in quality and abundance. The Sierra, including the CABY Region, is subject to some of the largest drivers of change—including population growth, intense recreational use, rapid development, and climate change—of any rural region in the United States. Sierra rivers, streams, and creeks are under immense pressure, and unless their ecological needs are integrated into landscape level changes, the impact on water quality, species diversity and abundance, and general ecosystem health will be felt from the headwaters to the Bay.
The CABY Water Trust will be an institutional model for acquiring and managing water rights. Preserving or restoring elements of the unimpaired hydrographs associated with Sierra rivers is an important component in addressing ecosystem needs. The CABY Water Trust will work to reclaim a portion of these water rights for strategic flow augmentation through community-level efforts to acquire and manage these rights, resulting in better management and protection or restoration of ecosystem services.
This Project will identify critical features of ecological connectivity that must be addressed by additional flows and focus the purchase of water rights in that direction. This integrated approach is more likely to lead to sustainable restoration than attempts that do not take into consideration flow augmentation needs. Additionally, water rights acquisitions are particularly well suited for headwater rivers, streams and tributaries such as in the CABY Region, where adding even small amounts of additional flows in the right reach at the right time can be critical. The opportunities to improve river function through trust water are growing, and there is already a demand to acquire water rights in the Sierra.
The CABY Water Trust is a strategic and critical part of a larger Sierra-wide initiative called the Sierra Water Trust Flow Augmentation Project, which is funded by the US EPA and the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. Partners in this larger effort include American Rivers, Sierra Nevada Alliance, Natural Heritage Institute, Alpine Watershed Group, South Yuba River Citizens League, Nevada Irrigation District, Feather River Land Trust, Friends of Deer Creek, and UC Davis.
The larger Sierra-wide initiative will provide legal and scientific support to the CABY Water Trust Project. In turn, the CABY Water Trust will be the institutional model for acquiring and managing water rights – a model that will be expanded over time throughout the Sierra. Identification and recruitment of the Water Trust Advisory Board, which will serve as the interim governing body for the CABY Water Trust, has already begun. The lessons learned through the implementation of the Sierra Water Trust Flow Augmentation Project will be applied to the CABY Water Trust Project.
Current Status (September 2016)
In late 2015, American Rivers requested modifications to the budget and work plan for Project #16, American Rivers’ CABY Water Trust project
The overall goal of Project 16 remains the same: to improve instream flows in the CABY region by promoting dedication of water rights to instream flow needs and build capacity of local organizations in order to implement these projects. However, American Rivera requested changes for several reasons, including: to better reflect developments in the CABY region since the project was conceived; and, to take advantage of the experience we have gained in instream water rights dedication projects in other regions of California.
The amendments reflect three primary changes. First, the original work plan called for to establishing a formal CABY Water Trust. It now appears that starting with a more flexible and less formal approach would be more effective, i.e., creating an “advisory board” first. Experience has shown that work with agricultural water rights holders is more effective when using lower-profile, more informal structures than an institutional “water trust”. Some agricultural water rights holders become concerned that a formal entity could lead to widespread loss of agricultural water rights. That is obviously not the intent, and allowing this misperception to proliferate would harm the overall effort. Instead, the project would create an unincorporated “advisory board” that could provide the same substantive support and guidance function envisioned in a “water trust”, but not create unfounded concerns.
Second, the original work plan envisioned the capacity building element to focus on the creation of the water trust institution. For reasons described above, it is no longer considered effective to create a new institution. Instead the focus of the capacity building effort will be to identify existing promising organizations and assist them in developing the capacity to implement water rights dedication projects. Thus the outcome would be the same, i.e., increasing the capacity to improve instream flows through dedications, but the strategy to achieve this is slightly different.
Third, the amended work plan will diversify the nature of the water rights transactions. The original work plan focused on the permanent sale of water rights for instream flow dedications. However, AR has learned from experience (since the execution of the original grant agreement), that the same outcome of improved instream flows can be achieved by using not just purchases, but also long-term leases, enforceable contracts to exercise water rights differently, and other legally binding mechanisms. By expanding the types of dedications to improve flows, AR has found that more water rights holders are interested in participating in instream flow programs.
Most of the requested amendments to the work plan and budget reflect the three changes described above, while others help to clarify the intent and approach of the project. All of the changes will help American Rivers more effectively and efficiently achieve the original goal and objectives of the project. The requested ammendment has been reviewed and approved y DWR, and work is continuing on the project as currently described.
Carson Cox, Director, Instream Flow and Water Supply, (415) 383-1788 firstname.lastname@example.org
Measurable Physical Benefits
Multiple throughout the Sierra
Multiple throughout the Sierra