Headwaters spring from Alpine County

Gazing at the white peaks of Alpine County, one can visualize how trickles of snowmelt join rivulets from springs, tumble down into high mountain lakes, and spill into sources of pure water. It's amazing to realize that the headwaters for five valuable rivers are located in Alpine County.

Snowmelt and spring waters commingle in the two Highland Lakes, altitude 8,600, near Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4. Of interest; while the northeastern Highland Lake flows to the Mokelumne River, the southwestern Highland Lake flows to the Stanislaus River. Near Carson Pass on Highway 88, tributaries enter Caples Lake which becomes the source for the South Fork of the American River. The Upper Truckee River, ultimately flowing into Lake Tahoe, has tributaries originating on Red Peak and Stevens Peak, with Grass Lake (meadow) near Luther Pass on Highway 89 supporting some source water. The two branches of the Carson River also originate high in Alpine County. Wolf Creek and Heenan Lake near Monitor Pass on Highway 89 contribute to headwaters for the East Fork of the Carson River, and Forestdale Creek, Lost Lakes and Red Lake near Carson Pass on Highway 88 form sources for the West Fork of the Carson River.

In a recent conversation with Robert Twiss, professor emeritus, UC Berkeley, he explained that good water is the key to continuing our quality of life for urban users, agriculture and the environment. The mountain counties and the federal agencies that manage much of this land need to guarantee that water-impacting uses, such as forestry, grazing, mining, recreation, and rural housing will always protect our valuable water resources.

According to Twiss, the high country's vegetation binds carbon that is critical in offsetting the CO2 produced by power plants that could lead to further climate change, global warming, and consequent rising of sea levels. He said the value of maintaining our forests, meadows and brush lands in their natural state is inestimable. Several local agencies and non-profit organizations are involved in the process to reach these goals.

The Alpine Watershed Group is working to preserve and enhance the natural system functions of Alpine County's watersheds for the benefit of future generations. Formed in 2004, the group is one of 24 Watershed Groups throughout the Sierra Nevada range committed to protection and restoration of the Sierra's watersheds.

The first professional coordinator to lead this volunteer group is Laura Lueders, and her position is funded in its entirety by the California Department of Conservation through the Watershed Coordinator Grant. The Alpine Watershed Group and Alpine County have partnered in sponsoring this position. Lueders, who received her bachelors of arts in biology from William Woods University in Fulton, Mo. and her masters of science in watershed management and restoration from the University of Wisconsin, embraces her work and life in the high country. Her hobbies of canoeing, kayaking, rafting, telemark skiing, cycling and fly fishing interweave with the natural landscape of Alpine County.

Markleeville Creek Days, in the Upper Carson River Watershed, is an event that has been hosted for five years by the Alpine Water Watershed Group. Last year, the group hosted four Creek Days in cooperation with the Sierra Nevada Alliance, Carson Water Subconservancy District, Friends of Hope Valley, Bear Valley Residents, Inc. and Kirkwood Mountain Resort. Over 100 people assisted in monitoring water quality, releasing trout, conducting stream bank stabilization and fighting invasive weeds.

Stream restoration projects have high priority with this group, with a current project on the design table of restoring Markleeville Creek to a natural course through the United States Forest Service Guard Station site. The restoration is a partnership of Alpine County, the Alpine County Watershed Group and the USFS.

Lueders encourages residents of Alpine County, "along with those who live elsewhere but recreate here" to volunteer for the water quality monitoring program.

"We will begin monitoring benthic macroinvertebrates (bugs in the stream) in May," she said

The group is also interested in addressing non-point source pollution, as it is also a threat to our water quality. After consulting with local contractors, a manual of best management practices will be created, and a demonstration workshop will be held, with the goal being to decrease the soil erosion that threatens the health of streams.

The Alpine Watershed Group meets at 6 p.m. every second Tuesday of the month at Turtle Rock Park, and anyone interested in learning more about the programs is encouraged to attend. To receive the monthly electronic newsletter and meeting agenda, e-mail Lueders at watershed@alpinecountyca.com.

When the Carson Water Subconservancy General Manager, Ed James, spoke before the Alpine County Board of Supervisors last week, he addressed the issue of balancing water demands with environmental, agricultural and domestic use. He also talked about the effects of global warming creating more rain on snow events, earlier spring runoff and less stream flow in summer.

While those of us living near the headwaters of five rivers celebrate the end of this particular drought, we shouldn't be complacent toward water conservation and watershed protection, because the effects of future seasons are unpredictable.

n Gina Gigli is a Markleeville resident. Reach her at ginagigli@gbis.com


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