Wildfire risk reduced near Scotts Flat Reservoir, Nevada City

Jul 25, 2022 | Project Highlights

Watch a video about the Scotts Flat Fuel Reduction project featuring SNC’s Chris Dallas and NID’s Neysa King.

Forests, water supplies, and homes at risk from wildfire

Nestled between the steep, pine-covered slopes of the Central Sierra Nevada lies Scotts Flat Reservoir, an incredibly vital water resource for many local communities. Over the last century and a half, the forests surrounding this watershed have become severely overcrowded with far too many trees per acre. Without proper treatments, the landscape is prone to high-severity wildfire, which can damage water supply infrastructure and impact water quality.

The Nevada Irrigation District (NID) serves homes, businesses, and farms in Nevada, Placer, and Yuba counties and relies on Scotts Flat Reservoir to store and release water for tens of thousands of customers. The NID recognized the need for forest-health treatments and began working with partners on forest health projects around Scotts Flat Reservoir.

In 2019, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy provided support for these projects through a nearly $1 million grant to implement the Scotts Flat Fuels Reduction Project Phase 4, a project aimed at mitigating the threat of wildfire on NID lands around the reservoir.

completed mastication and handcrew units are scattered around the reservoir within the NID boundary, but highly concentrated on the north east side
Scotts Flat Fuels Reduction Project Phase 4—Nevada Irrigation District and SNC Project Completion Map.

Treatments on 300 acres make reservoir and homes safer

Scotts Flat Fuels Reduction Project Phase 4 has since reduced fuel loads on 300 acres of dense forest adjacent to Scotts Flat Reservoir. The project work consisted of mechanical mastication on 190 acres, hand thinning on 48 acres, and a combination of both on an additional 62 acres of NID land. The NID plans on maintaining the treatments and continuing to improve forest health and wildfire resilience.

Scotts Flat Reservoir is an integral part of NID’s services, and protecting it by thinning the forest also reduces wildfire risk to hundreds of homes in nearby neighborhoods of Nevada City, like Cascade Shores.

“These sites are really surrounded by residents—you can’t see them. But, what we often say is ‘Here in western Nevada County, there’s a house under every tree.’”

Neysa King, Nevada Irrigation District

Forest-health projects, such as the Scotts Flat Fuels Reduction Project, are crucial for protecting vital infrastructure, communities, and water supplies throughout the Sierra Nevada, and all of California.

Staff from NID and SNC survey the fuels-reduction treatments around Scotts Flat Reservoir:

Forests restored, on-going stewardship next challenge

Protecting resources, such as Scotts Flat Reservoir, is a perfect example of the Sierra Nevada Watershed Improvement Program (WIP), which is a large-scale, holistic effort to restore resilience to the forested landscapes and communities of the Sierra Nevada.

With much of the forest around the reservoir now restored to a more healthy and historic structure, area residents can rest easier knowing that the threat of a potential devastating wildfire has been reduced.

Stewardship must continue, though. Although restored forests are healthy for a while after treatments, ladder fuels and overcrowding return over time, and with them a growing risk of catastrophic fire. Regular stewardship will be needed to ensure that the lands around Scotts Flat Reservoir and all that they offer, from a vital water source to homes for thousands of people, remain healthy and resilient to fire.