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Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Group


Northern California



Case Description

The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management (CRM) group is a partnership of 22 public and private groups (Figure 1) that formed in 1985 to collectively improve watershed health in the upper Feather River Watershed. It is one of the longest running CRM groups and one of the most successful in the state of California. The goal of the Feather River CRM is to improve watershed condition over time by reducing erosion, restoring meadow functions, improving water quality, and enhancing habitat for fish and wildlife. The CRM has completed over 50 watershed projects in the Feather River basin including studies and assessments, resource management plans, stream restoration projects, community outreach, and education efforts. Over 15 miles of stream and 4,000 riparian acres have been treated at a cost of over five million dollars, most of which was contributed by Feather River CRM partners. According to Jim Wilcox, the Feather River CRM program manager, “it’s the most phenomenal effort I’ve seen or been a part of. The longevity, the willingness to go outside the box for solutions, the broad level of support. It’s just unbelievable. And this is not fairytale-land here – this is Plumas County, the land of the Quincy Library Group, factions galore, and all the communities fight each other and throw stones. In the midst of all this independence and factionalism in the community, you have a group that has been able to rise above and work together relatively unscathed by it.”

Figure 1: Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Signatory Members

California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection
California Department of Fish and Game
California Department of Transportation
California Department of Parks and Recreation
California Department of Water Resources
California Regional Water Quality Control Board
Feather River Resource Conservation District
Feather River College
North Cal-Neva Resource Conservation and Development Area
Pacific Gas and Electric
Plumas County
Plumas County Community Development Commission
Plumas Corporation
Plumas Unified School District
Salmonid Restoration Federation
Trout Unlimited
University of California Cooperate Extension
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USDA – Farm Services Agency
USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service
USDA – USFS, Plumas National Forest

Since inception, members of the Feather River CRM recognized the critical link between watershed condition and local economic stability, and the important role restoration plays in sustaining this balance. Building stakeholder partnerships was identified as the best vehicle for achieving restoration goals. The group uses a consensus-based decision-making process and every project must be approved by all members of the CRM before it is undertaken. The CRM provides a unique forum where organizations with conflicting missions can work together collaboratively to improve the health of the Feather River watershed. Even though many of the organizations involved in the CRM are involved in regulatory or legal battles with one another, they continue to work together collaboratively and productively within the CRM. According to Wilcox, “The same people who are integrally involved in those resource conflicts are sitting down in the CRM meeting room,side-by- side-by-side, and talking about the program and working together on solutions. So they are able to set aside the outside stuff and still come in here and talk and work toward that shared goal. It’s awesome.”

The Feather River CRM is an outgrowth of an earlier process initiated by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). Facing excessive sedimentation problems at its hydropower dams along the Feather River in Northern California, PG&E initiated a dialogue in 1984 with the Forest Service and Soil Conservation Service that provided a springboard for collaboration and coordination among the many local, state and federal agencies with a hand in management of the river. In 1985, a multi-stakeholder meeting called by a County Supervisor to address water quality in the Feather River led to an innovative pilot project jointly funded by two state agencies and PG&E. The project restored a 75-acre meadow along Red Clover Creek, a tributary of the Feather River. The $75,000 project reduced sediment loading to the river by 1,000 tons each year, doubled trout populations, and brought eagles and cranes back to the area.

As described in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project report, the Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Group was:

Inspired by the success of the [PG&E] project, 13 different federal, state, regional, and local entities signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the objectives, according to the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project’s website, of optimizing beneficial uses of water, emphasizing education and prevention over regulation, and resolving participants' concerns through proactive involvement in a consensus-based planning process. Additional success with several erosion control projects led the groups cooperating under the MOU to become an official Coordinated Resource Management Planning (CRMP)Group. Mike Kossow, one of the original organizers of the group, stated, "We were a CRMP but just didn't know it yet."

The decision to become a CRMP group was in part to foster better coordination among resource management agencies and in part to gain increased access to federal programs and grants for work on public and private land. Although CRMP formation led to a new institutional structure for the group, members did not hesitate to modify this structure to meet their specific needs and values. The commitment of the group to maintaining a results-focused process and an emphasis on projects and not just planning led the group to drop the P (for planning) in the CRMP name and call itself the Feather River CRM. The remediation of cumulative watershed damage remained a primary objective of the group. [taken from The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project. The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Group. http://ceres.ca.gov/snep/pubs/web/v1/ch03/v1_ch03_12.html. Accessed January 19, 2004.]


Description of the Feather River Watershed

The Feather River watershed is located in California's northern Sierra Nevada and encompasses a broad variety of terrain, climate, historic use, and flora and fauna. The North, South, and Middle Forks of the Feather River drain 3,222 square miles of land base that drains west from the crest of the northern Sierra Nevada into the Sacramento River. Elevation ranges from 2,250 to over 10,000 feet, and annual precipitation varies broadly from more than 70 inches on the wet western slopes to less that 12 inches on the arid east side. Vegetation is diverse and ranges from productive mixed conifer and deciduous forests in the west to sparse sage and yellow pine plant communities in the east. The Plumas National Forest manages over 80 percent of the watershed, while alluvial valleys are predominantly privately owned and are grazed by livestock. The one million acres of mountains provide a habitat for numerous species, including those listed as endangered.

The Feather River watershed has long been recognized for its recreational and aesthetic value. An abundance of montaine rivers, lakes and reservoirs dot the landscape, creating both summer and winter recreational opportunities for over two million annual visitors. This million-acre watershed is also the main source of drinking water for the more than 20 million people and industries of Southern California. Water originating from Feather River drainages represents a significant component of the State Water Project, which provides high quality water to meet downstream urban and agricultural demand. In addition, a series of hydroelectric dams, powerhouses and reservoirs produce over 4,000 MW of power, while the watershed produces significant forest and agricultural outputs. Water is, therefore, a valuable commodity in this resource-dependent community, and maintaining stable watershed condition is a key element in promoting economic and environmental stability.

The Feather River watershed has been severely affected by 140 years of intense human use. Past mining, grazing and timber harvest practices, wildfire, railroad and road construction have contributed to the degradation of over 60 percent of the watershed, resulting in accelerated erosion, degraded water quality, decreased vegetation and soil productivity, and degraded terrestrial and aquatic habitats. 1.1 million tons of sediment is deposited annually at Rock Creek Dam at the downstream end of the East Branch North Fork Feather River, of which 80 percent is attributable to human activities. Long-term vegetation disturbance and consequent gully erosion has led to a dramatic change in hydrology, leading to reduced summer flow, higher summer water temperatures, lower water tables, reduced meadow storage capacity, and a trend from perennial to intermittent flow. Many downcut streams no longer sustain late-season flow, causing adverse consequences to riparian and upland vegetation, aquatic communities, and downstream water users.

Structure of the Feather River CRM

A unique aspect of the CRM is that it is facilitated and staffed by the Plumas Corporation, a local nonprofit organization established in 1982 to promote economic and community development in Plumas County. Plumas Corporation staff work to find funding and implement projects that the CRM has decided to undertake. The staff also play a key role in facilitating CRM meetings and in outreach efforts to farmers, ranchers, and other landowners who are often suspicious of PG&E and the government agencies that make up the CRM. According to Jim Wilcox, the Feather River CRM program manager, “One of the hard things that people who have been with us have is understanding our relationship to the Plumas Corporation. Plumas Corp is a private non-profit 501(c)3 with three divisions that house the County Visitor’s Bureau, an economic development component for Plumas County, and then the Feather River CRM staff. And, in reality, we get no direction from the Plumas Corporation Board, only oversight from the executive director of Plumas Corporation just making sure he knows what we are doing is legal. Those three Plumas Corporation staff are actually part of the Feather River CRM staff.”

The Feather River CRM consists of four committees that interact to carry out all aspects of restoration projects. The Executive Committee, a three-member board, provides policy guidance, dispute resolution, and support in the political arena. The Management Committee, composed of a representative from each CRM participant, administers the program, including policy and budget decisions, approving new projects, identifying financial support opportunities, tracking required monitoring, and approving new project design and funding. The Steering Committee, a broader group of CRM participants and interested local landowners, reviews program status on a quarterly basis, critiques new projects, participates in project tours and educational events, troubleshoots issues and interacts with landowners. The Technical Advisory Committees (TAC), interdisciplinary teams composed of interested and qualified Feather River CRM members, are formed for each project to provide technical guidance and oversight, and develop detailed plans. The overall program is managed by Plumas Corporation, which maintains full-time staff to provide administrative, coordination and technical support to these Feather River CRM committees.

CRM’s Decision-Making Principles

The CRM adheres to the following principles (among others) when considering a research or restoration project:
· All affected parties are involved at the beginning of the process. In addition, no process goes forward without the approval of all partners.
· An emphasis on enlightened self interest as well as on a commitment to measure results over the long-term are necessary to achieve solutions that are both environmentally and economically sustainable.
· All decisions are reached by consensus.
· The CRM emphasizes cumulative watershed effects (CWEs) problems with an impact on multiple use lands (public and private).
· All projects incorporate education and continual monitoring into their designs when possible.
· Public and private landowners take the lead on any project on their lands – developing goals, providing land history and establishing the boundaries of worst case scenarios. All participants in a particular project work to ensure that their collective goals are satisfied, and that a monitoring system is established to evaluate the success or failure of the project.
· When designing a restoration project, CRM incorporates job training, poverty alleviation, local business assistance and community development programs into the project whenever possible. All construction projects are awarded to local contractors
· The regional, intergenerational and inter-group nature of the watershed is emphasized during the planning process for each project to foster a sense of community among stakeholders. By involving even distant stakeholders, the costs of environmental protection are distributed as widely as possible, and of course, these stakeholders are repaid through the environmental and economic benefits that are realized through a successful watershed restoration project.

taken from Smart Communities Network: Land Use Success Stories. The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management Group. http://www.sustainable.doe.gov/success/feather_river.shtml. Accessed January 19, 2004.

The full CRM steering committee meets two to three times a year to discuss current issues and approve projects. The management committee, a subset of the steering committee, meets once a month to guide the day-to-day operations of the Plumas Corporation staff. The management committee is, according to Jim Wilcox, “essentially our board of directors for the three CRM staff and that’s how we get our more consistent and frequent direction and guidance.” This has taken some of the burden of decision-making off the staff and has improved communications between the staff and CRM members.

When the Feather River CRM was a new group, the steering committee functioned as the management committee. Since CRM was only working on 1-2 projects a year, it was possible for the committee to follow the CRM staff actions. However, by 1993, Wilcox recalled, “We were up to 6-7 projects a year, so the steering committee could participate less on an annual basis and people started getting disconnected from the process. Some were generally okay with that, but others were starting to get nervous. As CRM staff we were getting nervous because we were being forced to make decisions on the ground that really should have had input from the CRM group. In 1995, we had a significant meeting of CRM -- a facilitated meeting -- so people could get their concerns aired, discuss problems, and come up with structural modifications that would make the staff feel better and make the CRM feel better and more included in the process, particularly when they should be included in the process.” Additionally, Wilcox says that, “Every project or program has a TAC that is generally self-appointed. Anybody is welcome to be a part of it. It could be a resource professional or landowner or just an interested party from the public if they have some particular interest in beavers, sensitive plants, or fishing in general. If they have that interest and want to put in the time, they are welcome.”

The Key Role of Measurable Goals and Consistent Monitoring

Over time, members of the Feather River CRM have learned the importance of keeping their long-term goals at the forefront of their discussions and strategically selecting projects that advance conditions in the watershed towards those goals. Ongoing monitoring is a key aspect of the group’s efforts, enabling them to establish baseline data against which they can assess changes in watershed conditions resulting from their projects. Monitoring has always been a key component of Feather River CRM projects, Wilcox explains, “so that we can see what’s working and not working and then have an adaptive management process where we can feed our lessons back into the ongoing program development. That happens on multiple temporal and spatial scales.” The group’s emphasis has shifted from a "project-of-opportunity" approach to a strategic approach that provides for long-term watershed maintenance in the highest priority areas at the right time. The Feather River CRM is also seeking to build bridges and form partnerships with academia, to apply better science to restoration projects, and better understand watershed processes.

Overall Objectives of Pilot Watershed Monitoring Program

o Develop, implement and evaluate a monitoring program which documents, at the watershed scale, long-term trends in watershed condition cumulatively resulting from restoration activities, land management changes and natural processes in the Feather River basin.
o Develop a spatially referenced data management system to track, organize, and store monitoring data, facilitate analysis, provide a means for widespread distribution and education, and support production of reports needed to evaluate long-term trends. The system used should be compatible with other data sets managed by Quincy Library Group (QLG), Department of Water Resources (DWR), USFS, and others.
o When possible, use monitoring protocols currently used by resource management agencies to facilitate data sharing and to improve data analysis.

The CRM works to maintain connection and monitoring on all projects, no matter how old they are, using simple guidelines specific to a project. According to Wilcox, “We have essentially a very basic project effectiveness monitoring program that we can sustain whether we have direct grant funding for it or not.” When establishing the watershed trend monitoring program, the Feather River CRM worked to design a system that would work in tandem with its project specific monitoring. Explained Wilcox, “The intent was to set up a network of long-term direct data collection of continuous recording stations as well as some reference reaches. Some of the stations and reference reaches were specifically picked because we knew we were going to be doing an intensive restoration on a large scale in the watershed above. Then there were others where we knew we were not going to be doing restoration, but where we still want to know what conditions were and what kinds of trends were occurring. With each monitoring interval there is a snap shot developed for that watershed (ie. have there been any significant new roads, any fires, any significant change in grazing or timber management for that watershed?) so that we have this ongoing data and then we have this ongoing synopsis of gross changes we know of in the watershed.” Historical and current watershed conditions are taken into consideration in the design and implementation of projects.

In 1997, a Clean Water Act 319(h) grant was awarded to the Feather River CRM group to develop a Pilot Program for regional watershed monitoring in the upper Feather River basin. The general purpose was to identify and evaluate long term trends in watershed condition resulting cumulatively from restoration activities, land management changes and natural processes. The Pilot Program established a series of permanent sampling stations and stream reference reaches in 33 watershed locations. According to Jim Wilcox, “In this part of California, it is probably the most comprehensive system of watershed trend monitoring that has ever been established.” The monitoring strategy was based on the Stream Condition Inventory (SCI) protocol. These field sampling procedures, which include geomorphologic, biologic and chemical parameters, were developed over a five year period (1993-1998) by fisheries biologists and hydrologists in the US Forest Service Region 5. The program was also integrated with ongoing Feather River monitoring activities conducted by federal and state agencies and the Quincy Library Group. A GIS data management system that is compatible with the Plumas National Forest system facilitated data storage, analysis and sharing via the Feather River CRM website.

Jim Wilcox reported that in the summer of 2003, “we will be doing our third data set on the reference reaches. We will have a crew go out and physically measure those reaches for the third time. We’ve sustained the monitoring since the pilot project which was funded by the 319 grant. Shortly after that project got under way, the state set up a program called the Surface Water Ambient Program (SWAMP). At least until this year, the state has made a certain amount of general fund dollars available to the different regional boards, which are essentially subsets of EPA, to do [SWAMP projects]. So every other year, we’ve been awarded a portion -- about $150,000 for two years -- to maintain this monitoring program which was established through EPA’s initial grant. We are going into our third interval so we are going to have six years of continuous monitoring.”

Even before the monitoring established through the EPA 319 grant, the Feather River CRM incorporated monitoring on their projects. For example, recalls Wilcox, when coordinating the Big Flat Meadow Re-watering Project in 1995, the CRM had “one of the best setup meadows that we had ever had to actually measure discharge timing and also have ground water wells so we could measure changes in water elevation in the meadow. And it was still a bare bones approach. A lot of people have criticized it [for lack of] seismology to see where the bottom is, but, well, PG&E gave us 15,000 dollars; you do the best you can and that’s the way it is. The data still has shown enough of a change.” The Big Flat Meadow Re-watering project constructed 4,050 feet of new channel and re-watered 47 acres of meadow. Wilcox added, “Extended flow was higher, vegetation and wildlife changed, fishery came back, and it was quantifiably measurable, even if the techniques we used were not the best or most complete.”

Monitoring has been a critical issue for each project as well as for furthering the mission of the Feather River CRM as a whole. Says Wilcox, “We have been wrestling with the whole concept of effective monitoring at all scales, temporal, spatial, and what we should do. There is a long evolution of thinking and rethinking positions and methodologies.” Monitoring is such a key component of the Feather River CRM that, Wilcox notes, “the monitoring TAC is a standing TAC; it is almost a committee. Generally TACs come and go as a project evolves, but the monitoring committee continues.”

The Feather River CRM’s monitoring has documented the changes that restoration projects have made and allowed for further investment in restoration. This has been important from an ecological as well as financial perspective. As Wilcox comments, “It took us a long time, but we came to the realization that our basic ecosystem dysfunction here was the degradation of the meadows, which changed everything. It changed the hydrology, the sediment supply, the terrestrial landscape, water quality from a nutrient level. We learned this from monitoring; not constituent monitoring but a combination of quantitative constituent and qualitative observation. We started by trying to stabilize the gullies, using vortex weirs or vegetation; that’s what everybody has always done. We learned a lot about the effectiveness of those techniques, where they could be applied, but we also learned that in most of these systems less than 10 percent of the naturally evolved floodplain was left because of the incision. And everything we did inside that gully, no matter how good, was at a constant elevated stress because of confinement of water: it couldn’t spread out, flow down, and stay relatively shallow in a flood event. So if the river has developed a thousand foot floodplain, it needed it. That’s the bottom line.” Recognizing this ecological reality, Wilcox noted, “was like the light coming on; it started coming on in 1993 or 1994. The Big Flat Meadows was our first project where we said, let’s try this: let’s get out of this gully that’s 30 feet wide and put [the river] on this 600 foot wide floodplain.”

Monitoring of the Big Flat Meadows project showed that benefits could be achieved by changing the timing of the flow of the watershed. As Wilcox explains, “instead of water pouring out of Lake Oroville, over the spillway in January when nobody can use it – salmon can’t use it, smelt can’t – we take a portion of that flow and it hits the lake in June when everything and everybody can use it. That’s a major improvement for the state in its water supply woes. So, again, some of our monitoring is driven by what we think people want to see, the questions people are going to want to ask: if we are investing in your watershed what are we getting out of it?” The trend monitoring station data proved that even if more water is not accessible for downstream purveyors, the timing of dispersal could be modified through restoration and result in better utilization overall, which furthered interest in future investment in the watershed.



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