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Local Knowledge and the Feather River

In 1985, scientiest from Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) discovered that 250,000 cubic yards of silt was piling up behind its dams in the Feather River Basin of Northern California. This excessive sedimentation had reduced reservoir capacities and damaged power generation equipment, increasing the cost of producing electricity. PG&E had originally planned to follow the standard operating procedure and hire a Florida dredging company to remove the silt. A concerned history teacher named John Schramel, an officer in Plumas County, proposed that the money that was earmarked for the dredging be dedicated instead to erosion abatement programs upstream which would have the effect of reducing silt input. Gathering a coalition of anglers, business owners, government officials, and environmentalists around his dining room table, Schramel formed the Feather River Alliance (FRA) as a means to restore some of the local creeks and watersheds.

The Feather River Alliance stands out as a way to get private industry involved in a wider watershed-based cooperative effort. Before the Feather River Alliance was proposed as an alternative, PG&E was negotiating an $80 million dredging contract to clear out the excessive sedimentation in its reservoirs. But this would have been only an expensive temporary solution to the problem, "an awfully expensive Band-Aid." The Alliance offered the possibility of addressing upstream sources of the problem at Red Clover Creek, at less cost while creating local jobs. PG&E agreed to give the fledgling group a trial run in the Red Clover Creek, and the FRA, financed by PG&E and the California Department of Fish and Game, created four check dams to combat the sedimentation. These were accomplished with a PG&E grant of $35,000 per year and a Forestry Service grant of $15,000 per year. Utilizing local knowledge and the volunteerism of concerned citizens, the Feather River Alliance was able to effect tangible environmental improvements in Northern California.

Source: Watershed Management Initiatives in the Western United States

 

 

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