Sierra Meadows from the Air

Indian Valley, CA with Google overlay

Aerial view of Indian Valley Meadow restoration, CA with Google overlay

On a recent flight from Reno, NV to Los Angeles, CA I saw not one, but three of our meadow restoration project sites out the window of the plane! It was awesome, especially because each meadow is located in a different watershed and the furthest two are 165 miles from each other by car.

From north to south, I saw Hope Valley meadow in the West Carson water basin, Indian Valley meadow in the Mokelumne water basin, and Ackerson meadow in the Tuolumne water basin. Granted I was a geography major and am a huge map nerd, but I found this aerial perspective incredibly interesting as a way to visualize our work at the landscape (source-to-sea) and regional (e.g. Sierra-wide) scale.

Because I viewed the landscape from the air, but at an angle, I could clearly see terrain features and the way they form the basins of major waterways. I could visually place each meadow restoration project in the context of its larger watershed. This allowed me to better understand each meadow’s relationship to downstream communities and water users, despite the huge spatial separation on the ground. Though Indian Valley and the Bay Area communities it hydrates are over 150 miles apart, from the air their interconnectivity was obvious.

Hope Valley, CA with Google overlay

Aerial view of Hope Valley Meadow restoration, CA with Google overlay

Sierra waters, like those found in the meadows we restore, supply two thirds of California’s water supply. Restoration of a degraded meadow reinstates a meadow’s natural functions, including slowing and storing spring floodwaters, slowly releasing cool flows in late summer and filtering sediment and pollutants out of water, all of which are significant benefits for downstream communities and water users. Viewing the watershed from the air helped me connect the downstream benefits of our work to our projects in these headwater regions.

It was also interesting to see the proximity of our Hope Valley and Indian Valley project sites from the air. Hope Valley and Indian Valley are located just 11 miles from each other, just south of South Lake Tahoe (you can see Tahoe in the distance in the photo of Hope Valley), but Hope Valley’s watershed drains east out of the Sierra to western Nevada communities and Indian Valley’s drains west providing water for areas as far as the eastern Bay Area. It was useful to visualize meadow restoration in the context of the Sierra as a region and the far-reaching benefits of investment in this region.

Our meadow restoration team is planning to work with Lighthawk to take a flyover trip of our meadow restoration sites in summer 2014, so look forward to higher quality aerial shots later in the year!