HomeCompany Updates › Drought- Conserve or Be Served

Drought- Conserve or Be Served

Douglas-fir Tussock Moth (orgyia pseudotsugata) defoliating white fir at the Bradley. (S. Worden, 2014).

Douglas-fir Tussock Moth (orgyia pseudotsugata) defoliating white fir at the Bradley. (S. Worden, 2014)

August 2014, Ryan McKillop, Inventory Forester –

This year is setting up to be a potentially disastrous fire season, with July fuel moisture levels typical of what we see at the end of August in this part of the State, so fire season is at least a month ahead of normal.

It feels like fire season never really ended at all.  We haven’t seen “normal” around here since 2012, when Strawberry Valley had just over 104 inches of total precipitation, where the average is 83 inches, and a pretty good snowpack.

At that time, it seemed as if our drought problems were coming to an end, but things have taken a drastic turn for the worse.

Last year, Strawberry Valley logged in a miserable 22 inches of precipitation, and this year is at 47 inches, so we’re about 100 inches behind, and with no snow to help fill the reservoirs.

Little Grass Valley Reservoir, for example, has almost no inflow at this point, and there’s still two and a half months left of summer.  Lake Oroville, like many others, has State mandated minimum outflows for fish, regardless of the fact that it is at a mere 40%. Hey, I can’t wait to go salmon fishing this season, but the State has a serious water storage problem!

Needless to say, increased fire activity does not mix well with a severe water shortage.  Already, fire occurrence is at 140% of normal.  Luckily we haven’t a big one like the Rim Fire on the Stanislaus last year, which was the largest ever in the Sierras, and the 3rd largest in California’s history.  But, even here in what we’ve come to call the “asbestos forest”, the area between the Yuba/Feather divide, it is dangerously dry.

Never fear, our regulators are working at a fever pitch to try and minimize the damaging effects of this drought.  The Governor’s goal is to reduce water use this year by 20%.  They are throwing $200 million in grant funds to water agencies for improvements toward meeting the long term water needs of the State, $15 million appropriated for emergency drinking water projects, and $10.6 million of assistance to families affected by the drought.

Additionally, water rights curtailments are being issued by the day and commercial water use is being restricted.  Just last week, the Water Board released proposed statewide emergency water conservation regulations, which would restrict outdoor water use and impose fines of up to $500 per day for violations.  CALFIRE has issued a burn ban across its entire 31 million acres of State Responsibility Area (SRA).

Even timber harvests must comply with new Water Drafting Emergency Regulations, in effect for 180 days, which require timber harvesting plans on private timber lands to disclose all water drafting operations, drafting rates and volumes, compliance with Fish and Game Code Section 1600 and potential effects on downstream aquatic habitat.

So far, estimates are that California has so far achieved a 5% reduction in water usage, so expect more to come.

An aerial view of a Tussock Moth outbreak

An aerial view of a Tussock Moth outbreak

We are also just beginning to experience what I think could be a large wave of insect and beetle attacks across the State, as a result of the drought, especially if El Niṅo doesn’t show up soon!  Warmer winters have allowed bug populations to thrive.  Prolonged drought stresses the trees, and bugs are always looking for an easy target.

Healthy trees are effective at driving the bark beetles out using their pitch.  The weaker, stressed trees under attack eventually cannot produce enough pitch, so the bugs get into the trees cambium and feed off the sugars and water, the tree dies, and the new hatch moves on to the next target.  Last year, east of Little Grass, some fairly extensive swaths of white fir were hit by a defoliator, the white fir sawfly, which ate all the young needles and gave the appearance of dying trees.

Most of those trees were able to survive however.  This year, an outbreak of Douglas-Fir Tussock Moth is occurring on the south side of the lake, with some overlapping of last year’s sawfly outbreak.  Given the prolonged drought, these trees may or may not survive, and our salvage crews may or may not get Thanksgiving off!

Comments are closed.