Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, and the California Natural Resources Agency announced thedesignation of the California Headwaters Partnership Region as one of seven Resilient Lands and Waters Regions throughout the country — and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
The California Headwaters Region includes the watersheds of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains that drain into the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valleys. These watersheds are the source of water for more than 25 million people and provide the majority of the water for irrigated agriculture in California, but they are also facing a variety of challenges from the ongoing drought, a changing climate, and an increase in large, damaging wildfires. The Resilient Lands and Waters designation not only calls attention to the important role that Sierra Nevada forests and watersheds play in California’s water system, but it also drives home the urgent need to restore these landscapes to a more resilient state.
The Resilient Lands and Waters Regions are recognized for their role in building and maintaining natural areas that can support a broad range of fish, wildlife, and plants under changing climate conditions, but they are also selected because of the level of collaboration that exists within the region to achieve restoration at a landscape-scale. The Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program, an existing partnership between the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, the U.S. Forest Service, and many other diverse stakeholders, builds off of the existing collaborative efforts in the Sierra Nevada, and will help to establish a framework for restoring our primary watershed to a state of resiliency.
So far this year, more than 25,000 acres have burned across the Sierra Nevada Region, and we haven’t even really entered the heart of fire season yet. While not all of these fires are ecologically damaging, they can result in a variety of long-term challenges for land managers, water providers, air quality monitors, hydropower producers, rural communities, wildlife advocates, agricultural producers, recreation providers, and agencies working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is not a single entity that isn’t somehow impacted by the declining health of our source watersheds, which means that there is all the more reason to pull these stakeholders together to address the currently unhealthy conditions that exist in many parts of the Sierra Nevada. The California Headwaters Partnership designation is a call to action for all of those impacted by the declining health of our headwaters, and the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program provides a good place to start.