While most of the San Francisco Bay Area was celebrating Fleet Week, the staff and volunteers of the Tuolumne River Trust were celebrating the preservation of important wildlife land. It is land
along the lower part of the river referred to as Dios Rios that stretches for 1600 acres. On Thursday, Oct. 4, the Trust had an awards dinner benefit at the Marines Memorial Hotel and Club called "The Next Chapter: Bringing Dos Rios Back to Life."
The 1600 acres sits right across the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge."It cost 22 million dollars to purchase that land and took over 10 years for us to raise the funds," said Peter Drekmeier, program director for the Tuolumne River Trust. Drekmeier and others considered the benefit awards dinner not only as an outreach but a celebration of sorts. We appreciate the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for supporting this effort as part of their Watershed Environmental Improvement Program," Drekmeier noted.
How the TRT was able to do this was by approaching land owners in the area along the river, such as the Lyons family who own Mapes Ranch. "It was very ambitious and not easy,” said Drekmeier.” We closed the purchase deal in May of 2012," he said. Drekmeier praised the help of River Partners, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting the rivers of the Western United States. "They worked closely with us," he said.
Drekmeier also praised the work of Patrick Koepele who was instrumental in anchoring the Dos Rios restoration project. "There are three brothers and three sisters in the Lyons family that owns the property, known as Mapes Ranch," he said.
Koepele who serves as Deputy Executive Director for the TRT mentioned that one of the brothers was at a Resource Conservation District meeting in Modesto and while at that meeting Koeplele presented the idea of conserving the 16 acres and that by restoring the land to its full natural habitat a great service would be done to ensure the future health of the rivers.
There are three to four farms on the 1600 acres of land, growing produce like tomatoes, alfalfa, and an orchard of almonds. "It took some time for the entire Lyons family to warm up to the idea, noted Koepele. "They were cautious," he said. Yet over the course of many meetings and time spent, the Lyons family and the farmers on the land understood the vision.
"What was so great about the event this past Oct. 4, said Eric Wesselman Executive Director for the Tuolumne River Trust, was it was an example of what our organization has been doing to help the watershed." "We have been working very hard to undo some of the major damage done over the years; Dos Rios is a fine example of it," he said.
Founded in 1981 the Tuolumne River Trust was formed to stop the building of more dams on the Tuolumne, especially land above the Don Pedro Dam. "Achieving “Wild and Scenic” status for the upper Tuolumne River was a huge victory for us in 1984," said Drekmeier. Yet as he pointed out, "the Clavey River which is the largest tributary to the Tuolumne River was also in danger, said Drekmeier, so the Trust helped protect that vital waterway in 1994."
Much of the impact to all rivers has been the growing population and its demands for more water. "60 percent of the Tuolumne’s natural flow is diverted for agriculture and urban living. 13 percent goes to the SF Bay Area," said Drekmeier. The lower stretch of the Tuolumne below Don Pedro Dam is now listed as an impaired water way; "the lower parts of the river no longer meet clean water standards," said Drekmeier.
Drekmeier was hired in 2007 to address the Water System Improvement Program. The decline in water quality and the continuing demand for more water with its impact on the environment, "that is why TRT is opposed to diverting more water," he said. "We convinced the SFPUC to place a cap on water sales until 2018." "Our efforts at water conservation are to preserve the river," he said.
With so much impacting the environment, the demands for fresh water is constant as the population continues to expand. Because of this fact, the work of the TRT has been ongoing over the past 30 years.
This is why the Dos Rios acquisition is so important to the TRT. "State and federal agencies are not only helping to restore natural habitat but also to improve water quality," said Drekmeier. While much attention has been given to Hetch Hetchy lately through efforts to restore it and place that idea on the SF ballot this November in Prof F, it is often overlook that it is the Tuolumne River upstream that fills the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
"Hetch Hetchy has perhaps the best water in the world, said Drekmeier, its nearly pristine and supplies water not only to San Francisco residents but to 26 other water agencies outside of the City in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda Counties." He also noted that, "the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) is an administrator of that customer base and it is important that people understand the connection."
TRT is also responsible in part for helping to establish the Watershed Environmental Improvement Program, which enhances not only the Tuolumne River watershed, but also those administered by the SFPUC in the Bay Area. "That includes Crystal Springs and the Alameda Creek watershed," said Drekmeier.
Yet he also emphasized that further conservation efforts and water recycling must be examined as water sources are stretched. Educational programs such as "That’s the Tuolumne in my Tap,""Paddle to the Sea" and the "Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards" are some of the ways TRT and others are working with communities to promote more water-awareness.
Working with communities, especially along the river, has also been an important part of TRT's work. Dispelling fears about living near a river and fostering a sense of community and stewardship in the community is what the Dos Rios preserve purchase and other programs seek to achieve.
Drekmeier noted again that the help of agencies like the SFPUC and BAWSCA is vital. "Two-thirds of the water sold by the SFPUC is for people who live along the Peninsula, in the South Bay and in parts of the East Bay. "We have been tremendously successful in helping to reduce water usage by 20 percent over the last four years," said Drekmeier, and again he praised the collaborative efforts.
The next phase of Dos Rios will be organizing a number of volunteer clean up and "restoration" days. "This takes a lot of coordination," said. Wesselman. The farmers on the 16 acres of land at Dos Rios will gradually find other places to farm and conduct their agricultural endeavors, noted Wesselman. "The farmers who are on the land will have time to transition as we restore the area over the next few years." Yet, as Wesselman pointed out, "the faster we can restore it, the faster the area goes back to nature," he said.
One aspect that Wesselman noted as most important is "notching the levees," which will allow the river to flood into the low-lying land at Dos Rios.
"This is the good type of flooding," he said. Flooding of rivers is part of nature's ensuring that the habitat is in balance. As far back as ancient times in places like Egypt the annual flooding of the Nile River brought with it valuable silt or "top soil" to the banks allowing farmers to plant crops when the flood waters receded.
Often referred to as a "flood plain area" this is what volunteer restoration crews want to do at Dos Rios. "A levy is a berm, said Wesselman, which follows the river sending water downstream. We want to break portions of the level to allow for water to spill out freely into safe areas where its okay for flood waters to flow," said Wesselman.
"This is a 'win-win' said Wesselman, we are stoked about this because no one is living there and allowing flood waters to flow will not harm anyone or anything," he said.
Wesselman, explained further, "actually, containing a river, water diversion, creates more problems." "Because, that is disrupting the natural flow, holding the river hostage so to speak," added Wesselman. "Helping to restore the flood plain will help restore a better sense of balance to the river," he said. "We want to respect and protect all the creatures that live along the river, including the salmon. "This is a way to bring the salmon back," said Wesselman.
He noted that while this purchase of the Dos Rios acres is a major victory for the environment, "we are not a single-issue organization. "All the rivers and waterways and sources of water are our concern. And as time goes on we hope to work with other agencies and organizations to help restore and maintain the balance that must be honored and respected within nature."
"We need a healthy San Francisco Bay Delta," he said. Rivers, water sources, natural habitats this is all connected and it is critical," Wesselman said. The Tuolumne River Trust considers its conservation and advocacy work as vital.
Tuolumne River Trust it is not just the present water use and needs that are important. "We are working to and improve future water use," said Drekmeier. "People must realize that water is a precious commodity, he said, one that everyone is very dependent upon and that all sources of water, no matter how seemingly abundant, are limited."
For more information about the Tuolumne River Trust and its work [url=http:// www.tuolumne.org t=_blank]visit the web site. Or call the main office 415-882-7252.