Environmental Restoration and Conservation
(Kent Kinney (L) accepts grant award with Matt Brown (R) at PG&E reception)
On October 22, 2013 in San Francisco, members of the El Rio Reyes Conservation Trust (El Rio Reyes) attended a ceremony to receive a $5,000 grant as part of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) Employee Leadership Award Program. Matt Brown, Registered Professional Forester and Land Consultant for PG&E, led the restoration work on the recently completed Crane Valley Dam Seismic Retrofit project at Bass Lake.
For his leadership in the epic restoration of the quarry site and adjacent forest land impacted during the retrofit of Crane Valley Dam he and his team earned PG&E’s Environmental Leadership Award. With this award, the team was given the opportunity to gift a $5,000 grant to the non-profit of their choice. They chose to give this grant to El Rio Reyes Conservation Trust, an agricultural and riparian habitat conservation land trust headquartered in Reedley, CA.
“El Rio Reyes is grateful and honored to receive this grant award,” said David Cehrs, board president and retired hydrologist. “The work Matt Brown has achieved in restoring a former quarry site to its nearly natural state and his subsequent recognition of our work to maintain the natural and pristine environment along the Kings River is inspiring. It sets the tone for our future growth, a path on which we are ardently charging ahead.”
“As we lose private landowners on forest or riverlands we lose the intrinsic values of their land stewardship,” said Matt Brown. “PG&E is an environmental leader in the utility industry and a pioneer in corporate environmental justice – going above and beyond to return land we impact to its natural state – and I believe that is what we are doing at Crane Valley. Similarly, I believe in what El Rio Reyes is doing to protect the Kings River private agricultural and riparian lands – that is why I wanted them to receive this grant.”
Restoring a Forest
PG&E is responsible for managing Crane Valley Dam and Bass Lake, the reservoir formed by construction of the dam. From 2010-2012 the Crane Valley Dam (CVD) Seismic Upgrade Project’s main objective was to improve the safety of the dam by adding rock buttresses to the upstream and downstream slopes of the dam. Approximately 75 percent of the rock material for the buttresses came from the New Wishon Quarry, an onsite quarry developed adjacent to the dam within the Sierra National Forest. At the end of construction, the footprint of disturbance on the project that required restoration was 55 acres of forest land and included the nine-acre quarry.
“We planted approximately 30,000 trees and plants of various species,” said Brown. “The ultimate goal is to return the site back to a natural forest, similar to what existed at the site prior to the disturbance resulting from the Retrofit Project. All our plantings came from native seed collected prior Retrofit Project implementation. The topsoils from the quarry footprint were also collected and stockpiled onsite during construction to facilitate plant growth after reforestation.”
Typical quarry restoration involves replacing soils (usually non-native), but mainly stabilizing the area. It is common for pit quarries, such as the New Wishon Quarry, to be converted into a lake or park; there are very few examples of surface quarry restoration that converted the site back to native conditions. Prior to the CVD Seismic Retrofit Restoration Project there has never been a quarry restoration project aimed at returning a mine site back to Sierra Mixed Conifer Forest.
Brown and the restoration team developed a comprehensive and innovative Restoration Plan in 2012 that addresses features such as geologic stability, permanent erosion control, native soil protection and enhancement, native plant restoration, reforestation, wildlife habitat enhancement and development, stream construction, native plant protection, and noxious weed management. Based on this plan, and an adaptive management approach, the area was restored in 2012 and is barely recognizable as a former quarry, just two years from start of construction.
Connection to Conservation
The monumental restoration project on the Crane Valley Dam quarry and impacted forest land was a feat of extraordinary innovation and dedication to ensuring the land was returned to its near natural state. “The success of this project is evidence that with the right resources, the desire to be an environmental leader, and the support to be that environmental leader we can ensure that the resource is conserved for future generations while completing projects like the Seismic Upgrade that are a win-win for everyone. ” said Brown.
To achieve this multi-million dollar restoration project PG&E spared no expense to create a nearly natural habitat after their impacts and exceeded nearly all industry standards for restoration, forest management, and monitoring post project completion.
“To see how Matt and his team were able to reverse the impact to this forest land is truly astounding and a triumph for the land and the community,” said Kent Kinney, board secretary and Reedley College Agriculture and Natural Resources Department Head. “At El Rio Reyes we are doing something similar for the land and the community along the Kings River by using the tool of conservation easements to protect land from development and conversion. The need to restore the environment through expensive projects may be avoided by placing conservation easements on lands that have not yet been degraded. ”
Conservation is an alternative to restoration that is often times more cost effective and ensures the landowner stays on the land to manage the property on-going at their own expense, rather than continue to pay outside sources for maintenance and monitoring.
“As a conservation organization we recognize and appreciate good stewardship when we see it. This project is an incredible model and sets new standards for corporate environmental responsibility,” said Cehrs. “With support from this PG&E grant our organization will continue to work to conserve agricultural lands along the Kings with landowners who are committed to the goal of conserving their land for future generations.”