By Ryan Ferrell (Research Scientist)
This isn’t the first time I’ve had to lug thousands of pounds-worth of supplies into the remote wilderness of Pepperwood. Installing fixed geometry stream gauging stations high in the steep, flashy, ephemeral headwaters of California’s inner coastal range is not the kind of project that people line up to help with. “Is all this worth it?” Asked one of the younger volunteers as we carried the last of the remaining supplies down 500ft of rope into the canyon below. The answer, enthusiastically, came from Dr. Peter Hartsough, Professor of Headwaters and Forest Hydrology at UC Davis and invaluable project partner.
The work is hard: this weir, one of two, has taken months of preparation, siting, and low impact construction (all by hand) to give us the tools we need to measure streamflow in these headwater locations where “floods are born.” High on the mountains and hills that transect Sonoma County is where the majority of precipitation falls. Having the ability to monitor and measure realtime streamflow in these remote areas provides critical data for forecasting water supply and flood timing, duration, and intensity for low lying communities along the Russian River.
But there is another objective behind these stream gauging stations. They’re part of a paired watershed study monitoring the effects of forest stewardship on the water balance. Specifically, we are seeking to quantify how forest thinning, combined with prescribed fire, shifts the timing and distribution of water across the ecosystem. By doing this Pepperwood can adaptively manage our forest and will have the ability to refine management techniques, timing, and scale to accomplish the desired effect. Furthermore, we will be able to better inform local landowners, partner agencies, and others seeking to steward their forested lands.
I need to acknowledge those folks who helped make this all happen. I sincerely appreciate their sweat, blood, and tears.