Squaw ‘Friends’ receive conservation grant | SierraSun.com

Squaw ‘Friends’ receive conservation grant

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun
Photo courtesy of Trevor Heneveld/Sierra SunEd Heneveld of Friends of Squaw Creek skis on the snowy banks of Squaw Creek last week. The Friends of Squaw Creek received close to $50,000 in grant money from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy to pursue restoration efforts.
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They are an informal group of residents and citizens that has organized to express concern about the health of Squaw Creek.

They like to ski and hike along the banks of the Truckee River tributary.

They are curious about the effects of well pumping on the creek and aquifer in Squaw Valley.

Some care so much for the stream’s aquatic life that they relocate trout into deeper pools as the stream dries up in the summer.

The Friends of Squaw Creek received a grant for $49,900 this month from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, a California agency established in 2005 to allocate funding for environmental preservation.

The group will use the grant to create a strategy of how to “make it a better stream,” said Friends Chairman Ed Heneveld.

The strategic opportunity grant contains two elements, Heneveld said.

“We need to define the goal of our creek restoration efforts,” he said in a phone interview. “[And] try to get a handle on well pumping and aquifer interaction.”

Well pumping has been targeted by as a possible cause of the creek’s tendency to run dry in the summer and fall months.

A founding member of the Friends and a long-time Squaw resident, Pam Rocca believes three conditions are fouling and drying up the creek waters: The loss of snow storage because of tree cutting, well pumping for municipal and commercial use and the loss of many of the creek’s tributaries during past development in the valley.

The director of the Truckee River Watershed Council called the stream’s poor condition the result of previous decisions.

“From the perspective of a fishery, Squaw Creek is not a healthy fishery, and not a healthy [vegetated stream bed], we are seeing 100 years of land-use decisions,” said Executive Director Lisa Wallace of the watershed council.

Those land-use decisions included grazing, timber harvesting, and the rapid development of resorts and housing over the last 50 years, she said.

Carl Gustafson, a civil engineer and Friend of Squaw Creek, said the 12-foot deep ravine that is part of the re-engineered creek, lies alongside the Squaw Valley Ski Corp.’s parking lot, causing degradation that affects the creek and surrounding meadow. Experts have confirmed that observation.

The channel shoots high-speed water out into the meadow acting, “in some cases like a shotgun,” said Mike Liquori of Philip Williams and Associates Consultant in April. Placer County hired the watershed consultants in 2005 to conduct an $80,000 study on the creek’s restoration.

Now, with close to $50,000 available to the Friends, Heneveld said the creek activists want to initiate three steps: Define the goals of creek restoration in a community workshop next month; convene a technical advisory group that will describe the interaction between the meadow, the stream, the aquifer and well pumping; and if there is any money left, fund additional technical studies to determine the best method to restore the stream.

The consultants presented four restorations options in April, ranging from rerouting the creek to its historic channel, to completing restoration work on the existing channel.

The Truckee River Watershed Council will administer the grant because the Friends do not yet have nonprofit standing, according to Wallace.

Heneveld said he hopes the group can raise a total of $112,000 to complete its planning. The Friends anticipate receiving an additional $62,500 in grant money from Placer County, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the Resort at Squaw Creek, he said.

Heneveld said the Sierra Nevada Conservancy grant money came from Proposition 84, a bond measure passed by Californian voters in November 2006 that is dedicated to water-quality projects.

“Where this is all heading [is toward] a better understanding. There are multiple choices ” the Band-Aid approach, or restore a stream bank that was originally there,” Heneveld explained. “We may not come up with the answer, but if we get the community vision out there … ultimately it will be the scientists who tell us what [option has] the most bang for our buck.