Understanding Northern California’s Spring Water Sources

The following Op-Ed by CalTrout’s Mt. Shasta/Klamath Director, Andrew Braugh, appeared this week in Redding’s Record Searchlight. 

Northern California Spring Water Sources Key to Weathering Drought and Climate Change

By California Trout 

The winter of 2015 was the driest winter in California’s recorded history. But despite the great drought—and perhaps the worst arid spell for California in 1,200 years—spring-fed water flows steadily in Northern California.

You read that correctly. Even with a fourth consecutive summer of record setting drought, water from the depths of Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, and the Medicine Lake Volcano rises insistently to the surface providing life for people, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and hydropower.

Photo: Val Atkinson

Photo: Val Atkinson

As the drought reduces rain water and snow melt, spring water acts as an emergency reserve, currently pumping 1.7 billion gallons a day into Shasta Reservoir. In total, over two million acre feet per year of spring-sourced water flows from our region’s aquifers into Shasta Reservoir—California’s largest—accounting for about one-half of total storage capacity. Thanks to this water source, Shasta Reservoir is currently maintaining 61% of its historic average: more surface storage than any reservoir in the state (CA Department of Water Resources, 2015).

Despite the undeniable importance of this water source, we know surprisingly little about the complex geochemical processes that fuel our major regional spring systems.

It wasn’t until 2014 that researchers verified that the source of Fall River water—one of the largest spring-fed rivers in the entire western United States—originates from the Medicine Lake Volcano aquifer located just 30 miles east of Mount Shasta.

In response to our poor scientific understanding of source water, California Trout is launching a new assessment of California’s most valuable spring systems throughout the Klamath-Cascade region.

The purpose of the study is three fold:

First, establish a scientific baseline for all large-volume spring systems throughout the region. Second, identify important recharge areas and potential stressors. Last, inform decision makers tasked with making tough decisions about critical issues to California’s water and energy future, including geothermal development, groundwater pumping, additional surface storage, and water for agriculture and the environment.

The study will include, among others, Fall River, Hat Creek, the Shasta River, and the famous McCloud River. Our Fall River work is especially important as Calpine Energy proposes geothermal development in the Medicine Lake Highlands.

Not coincidently, the assessment will also include Big Springs, an important cold-water spring source to the Upper Sacramento River and lightning rod of controversy surrounding Crystal Geyser Water Company in Mt. Shasta.

Crystal Geyser plans to invest $50 million to upgrade an existing bottling facility that draws water from the same aquifer that fuels Big Springs. Although Crystal Geyser is confident their operations won’t affect the springs or groundwater levels, their plans naturally raise questions about the vulnerability of the aquifer.

To begin addressing these questions CalTrout has developed a detailed study plan for Big Springs, which includes four new gaging stations and a real-time monitoring system that will measure possible changes in flow or water quality.  Crystal Geyser fully supports this effort.

As with all our restoration efforts throughout the state, CalTrout is committed to pursuing scientifically-based solutions to complex natural resource issues. With the right approach, we can elevate public policy that balances the needs of fish, water, and people.  But in the context of extreme drought, a changing climate, and increasing water demand, we need to improve our scientific understanding of these systems because spring-sourced water is more important than ever.

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Illegal pot grows spoil North Coast

All indications are an initiative to legalize marijuana will go to the California voters in the fall of 2016. CalTrout is working ahead of this initiative to guide water-management regulation of this booming agricultural sector.

As such, we support Assemblyman Jim Wood’s (D-Healdsburg) bill, AB 243 that addresses the environmental problems created by medical marijuana farms.  For more about the bill, read Assemblyman Wood’s Op-Ed in the Sacramento Bee.

For nearly 20 years, we have allowed the medical marijuana industry to go largely unregulated. We have kicked the can down the road for too long. We must act now to protect the environment and protect our water for future generations.

– Assemblyman Wood

Anheuser-Busch Commits $90k to CalTrout Project

Anheuser-Busch is partnering with California Trout to support a local watershed project that is one of three critical sources of water to the greater Los Angeles area.

Together, Anheuser-Busch and CalTrout will initiate a multi-pronged restoration program in the Mammoth Lakes watershed. Mammoth Creek and surrounding areas feed into the Owens Watershed, which supplies water to Los Angeles and surrounding communities. The projects, located on the Inyo National Forest, will collectively help improve the ecological health of Mammoth Creek and associated meadows, enhancing its water quality and supplies downstream.

“We are pleased to be partnering with Anheuser-Busch and the Inyo National Forest to improve the hydrologic conditions of Mammoth Creek and adjacent meadows,” said Mark Drew, director of the Sierra Headwater Program at California Trout. “This work will benefit the local environment and recreational opportunities as well as downstream water supplies flowing to Los Angeles. Such partnerships are the way forward and we look forward to a successful outcome.”

Click here to read more about the project and partnership.


The Week’s Newsbytes

The Week’s Newsbytes

The Week’s Newsbytes

CDFW Plans for Kern River Rainbow Trout Relief

In this time of dire drought that is threatening California’s already imperiled native trout, action needs to be taken to do what is necessary to sustain these iconic fish.

Genetically pure strains of native trout, including Kern River rainbow trout, are more resilient to a changing environment and particularly to “shocks” to their environment, such as those resulting from current drought conditions.

A project proposed by the California Deptartment of Fish & Wildlife to breed pure genetic strains of Kern River rainbow trout should provide a necessary step in helping to ensure healthy populations are sustained well into the future. As such, CalTrout supports the proposed plan and would encourage others to do so as well.

You can read about the planned project here.

Mount Shasta Mud Flows Water Talks Tonight

Living near a beautiful mountain there is always an enjoyable view, and sometimes exciting events like mudflows.

On Thursday, May 28th from 6 to 8 pm, six regional scientists will give a rounded presentation on Mount Shasta’s unique mudflow processes at the Mt. Shasta Sisson Museum located at 1 North Old Stage Road in Mt. Shasta. The program is free and open to everyone.

“Mount Shasta Mudflows” will feature presentations from:

  • Andrew Calvert, Research Geologist, United States Geologic Survey (USGS), on the “Eruptive History of Mount Shasta,”
  • Craig Ballenger, Fly Fishing Ambassador and Historian, California Trout on “A Brief History of Mud and Debris Flows on Mount Shasta,”
  • Nick Meyers, Lead Climbing Ranger, USFS, and Forrest Coots, Climbing Ranger, USFS on “A First Hand Account of the September 2014 Mud Flow on the Konwakiton Glacier and Mud Creek,”
  • Juan de la Fuente, Geologist, USFS, on “Debris Flow Processes,” and,
  • Steve Bachmann, Hydrologist, USFS on “Forest Service Response.”

For more information visit www.californiawatertalks.org.

The Week’s Newsbytes