The recurring theme at the monthly town meeting, held Monday, Oct. 5, at the Three Rivers Memorial Building, was climate and how it is affecting water, fire, and possibly floods this winter.
Bobby Kamansky, principal biologist for Kamansky’s Ecological Consulting and a biology professor at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, spoke on the prolonged drought and also about the potential for flooding during an impending El Nino season.
Kamansky has been working with the Southern Sierra Regional Water Management Group to bring resources to the Three Rivers area. One of the goals of the Southern Sierra Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, Kamansky said, is to pursue projects that can improve water quality and address supply concerns in Three Rivers.
One such project nearing completion is the Three Rivers Water Supply Study, conducted by California Department of Water Resources. The Study indicates the demand for water is greater when the river is at its lowest flow in late summer; this is also true for groundwater wells. During the winter months, each user, on average, consumes 195 gallons daily; in the summer, per user consumption can spiral to 480 gallons daily with at least half of that water being used for landscaping.
Conservation— Three Rivers residents can conserve water by converting landscapes to native and drought-tolerant plants or reducing the amount of irrigated area, minimizing household water usage, monitoring and maintaining wells and septic systems, increasing percolation, purchasing wisely, and recycling water.
Kaweah Country, like all of the West, faces a conundrum.
“We all hope and pray for rain but not too much rain,” Kamansky said. “Too much rain in a single storm event or season can damage infrastructure and also lull policymakers and users into becoming complacent about water conservation.”
Flood— Residents need to realize that Three Rivers is both a flood and drought zone, subject to an erratic climate with natural catastrophes as part of life, Kamansky said. If a property is in a flood plain, dead and dying trees and vegetation could potentially fall and block river flow and access to the streambed.
“Even with an El Nino, we may get lots of precipitation, but it may not be enough to end the drought,” Kamansky said. “It is important for water conservation efforts to be ongoing and for human communities to adapt and become resilient in the face of a dynamic environment.”
Fire— Mike Theune, fire education specialist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, presented a fire update.
The Rough Fire is 89 percent contained, he reported, and at 151,623 acres burned is the 13th largest fire in California history.
A Burned Area Emergency Response team has been mobilized to determine the damage and emergency status in the aftermath of the fire, monitor the effectiveness of emergency treatments, and to help stabilize soil; control water, sediment, and debris movement; prevent impairment of ecosystems; and mitigate threats to health, safety, life, property and downstream values at risk.
The Big Five Fire near Big Arroyo in the Mineral King backcountry has been burning since June. It is located at 9,000 feet elevation and now has grown to 260 acres. The fire will burn out naturally.
A prescribed fire is being scheduled for late October or early November in Mineral King, Theune said. The plan is to burn an area of 277 acres near Deadwood Creek. Weather permitting, ignitions are expected to be completed in two or three days.
Seasonal closures— Dana Dierkes, public information officer for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Dierkes said the parks has another anniversary celebration scheduled for 2016 when the National Park Service marks 100 years since the agency was created.
Dierkes noted that the Sequoia Shuttle, which concluded its current seasonal run at the end of Sequoia’s 125th anniversary celebration weekend (Sept. 27), will operate during the 2015 holiday season. Ridership of the shuttle, Dierkes reported, increased by 50 percent in 2015.
Dierkes also announced planned closings as the local parks downsize for the winter season. The Mineral King Road will be gated near Lookout Point on Friday, October 26th; and Crystal Cave will close for the season on Sunday, November 29th. Cedar Grove remains closed for the season due to impacts from the Rough Fire.
The next Town Hall meeting, sponsored by the Three Rivers Village Foundation, will be held Monday, Nov. 2. For information: (559) 799-4325.
Holly Christine, a Commonwealth staff writer, attended the town meeting and contributed to this article.