Short and Long Term Impacts of the Rim Fire on the Tuolumne River Watershed
Have you heard of the Tuolumne River? If are one of the .9 million water customers living in San Francisco, or one of the 1.7 million water users living in the 26 city utility and water districts organized under BAWSCA, this is the name of the nearly pristine river that donates 33% of its flows to provide your primary water source.
The Tuolumne River is the circulatory system for the health of the Tuolumne River Watershed which sustains a large portion of the Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada of California, emanating from it’s headwaters in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park.
The Rim Fire, located primarily in the Tuolumne River Watershed, has burned over 256,528 acres as of September 17, 2013. In efforts to contain the fire, Cal Fire in coordination with the National Park Service and with input from the San Francisco Public Utility Commission (SFPUC), has bulldozed fire lines across ridge tops, dropped fire retardant (over 2 million gallons as of Sept 5, 2013) on active and advancing fire perimeter, as well as back-burned areas to contain the fire which continues to burn through the northern and western Stanislaus forest, now well into Yosemite National Park and the perimeters of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
As a small part of it’s ecological function, the Tuolumne River Watershed drains water into Lake Eleanor, Cherry Lake, as well as the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir collected behind the O’Shaughnessy Dam in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. The rights to these collected waters are owned by SFPUC, the Modesto and Turloch Irrigation Districts and the people of California. The SFPUC diverts roughly 33% of the Tuolumne River into the Hetch Hetchy Water Transfer System to provide 85% of their total water supply for San Francisco’s .9 million customers, as well as selling water to agencies serviving an additional 1.7 million water users primarily in Silicon Valley, organized under BAWSCA, in total providing clean water to nearly 2.5 million people.
Even as the fire continues its expansion as of September 17, 2013, many, many people are questioning the immediate and long-term impacts of ash, fire retardant and soil entering the river via winds and rains on the watershed over the next few years are being raised in relation to watershed health – soil, water and wildlife, as well as drinking and irrigation water quality. What will be the long term impacts on the Tuolumne River Watershed’s capacity to restore the fire area’s once vibrant-ecosystem, and what will be the short and long term impacts on the water supply for the SFPUC and their BAWSCA customers, as well as Turloch and Modesto, the two Irrigation Districts utilizing this river as supply?
Join Wholly H2O and a panel of experts to discuss this immediately critical issue.
- Dr. Elizabeth Dougherty, Director, Wholly H2O
- Bill Sears, SFPUC, Upper Tuolumne River Ecosystem Program, Science and Policy Analyst
- Patrick Koepele, Tuolumne River Trust, Deputy Executive Director
- Representative from Burn Area Emergency Response Team (BAER)
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