By Meghan Christie, Intern
Preserving and protecting the watershed is surprisingly multifaceted.
Part science: we assess and monitor the geology, hydrology, biology, and botany of each project.
Part management: we align agencies, consultants, contractors, and volunteers to get the job done.
Part funding: we find the grants, cost-sharing, and donations to finance each effort.
Part education: we tell locals, visitors, and water-users about our stressed and fragile ecosystem.
Though meadows are commonly found in the upper reaches of a watershed, they can have tremendous influence on the entire watershed.
One influence is on surface water flows and groundwater recharge. In a hydrologic system such as the Truckee River watershed, almost all of the yearly runoff comes in one large pulse (the spring snowmelt) and very little precipitation occurs the rest of the year. Healthy meadows act as sponges, soaking up water during wetter periods, and then slowly releasing this water as baseflow during subsequent drier times. This helps to both lessen flood waters and increase flow during drought. Earlier this spring, the National Water and Climate Center published data showing water levels in the Truckee Basin to be less than 50% of the average. Ensuring healthy and functioning meadow systems becomes even more vital, as our watershed will receive smaller and less consistent quantities of water.
Meadows also influence water quality. Their dense vegetation acts as a filter, trapping pollutants, excess nutrients, and sediment. This creates cleaner, colder water – which helps our native fish species thrive.
Healthy meadows help to mitigate the effects of climate change, and buffer against some of its destructive byproducts. The higher water table, year-round wet soils, and lush grasses help a wetter meadow slow down a rapidly-moving wildfire as a natural firebreak.
Another climate change mitigation that occurs in functioning meadow systems is carbon sequestration. Meadow plants capture carbon dioxide from the air and sequester it in the soil as they grow. This sequestration helps the overall fight against rising carbon dioxide levels. It is also important to note that if a meadow erodes, the previously-sequestered carbon is released back into the atmosphere. We must keep our meadow systems healthy, therefore keeping that carbon in the ground, while working to restore those that have been degraded.
In the last three years, the Truckee River Watershed Council has restored over 700 acres of meadow. This summer, with our partner, the Tahoe National Forest, the Boca Meadow complex (129 acres of meadow) and Sardine Meadow (350 acres of meadow) are scheduled for restoration. These projects will further increase the resiliency of our natural environment.