The Sierra Fund applauds the executive order issued by Governor Brown on May 10, 2018 to combat tree mortality, improve forest management, increase forest carbon storage potential and protect communities from devastating wildfire. The order calls attention to both ecosystem and community resiliency at the nexus of forests, water, climate and people. We are particularly excited that Governor Brown describes the connection between forest health and reservoir sedimentation, an issue The Sierra Fund has been working on for many years:
“WHEREAS water supply for the State Water Project and other municipal and agricultural systems has been impacted by increased sediment and accelerated snowmelt caused by wildfire and tree mortality…”
We know that many Sierra Nevada forests lie on top of abandoned hydraulic mines, where mercury was applied to aid in gold recovery during the 19th century Gold Rush. When these forests burn, not only is more sediment transported downstream, but mercury transport increases, as the metal is bound to the sediment.
This mercury-contaminated sediment builds up behind reservoirs, reducing the storage capacity of our built infrastructure and impairing water quality. Simultaneously, climate change is causing more precipitation in the Sierra Nevada to fall as rain instead of snow, impacting the state’s single largest water storage system – the natural infrastructure of snowpack in the mountains.
The Governor’s executive order is an important step in strengthening the state’s capacity to adapt to changing climate, fire and water flow regimes. The Sierra Fund is excited to see the priorities of our ecosystem and community resiliency programs reflected in the executive order.