Monitoring natural springs in the Owens Valley

Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership (SNAP) member Meghan Branson is working with the Inyo County Water Department (ICWD) as the Field Assistant. Meghan is primarily responsible for field vegetation sampling across the Owens Valley in California, along with assessment of riparian areas and various environmental monitoring and data collection projects.

SNAP members and ICWD staff out in the field holding transect tapes and quadrats, used for surveying the mitigation sites.

This Summer, Meghan has been working on Spring Sampling for Assessment of Mitigation Projects. Under the supervision of Meredith Jabis, ICWD staff and seasonal staff, including SNAP members, have been facilitating this project. The Long Term Water Agreement (under which the ICWD acts) states the intention to maintain or restore wetland vegetation community types but does not indicate how to determine project success at these mitigation sites.

Meredith developed a protocol to survey natural springs and compare the spring vegetation health at sites that have been mitigated. Based on Meghan’s personal observations, it appears that the mitigation sites are improving wetland vegetation but don’t have as many indicator species as found at the natural springs. The project is still ongoing, so the outcome is not available yet.

The ICWD’s mission is “to protect the County’s environment, citizens, and economy from adverse effects caused by activities relating to the extraction and use of water resources and to seek mitigation of any existing or future adverse effects resulting from such activities.” Meghan sees this project as directly related to the ICWD’s mission. Its purpose is to protect the environment in Owens Valley, especially the sensitive spring habitats in the high desert of the Sierra Nevada Region.

A view of three ICWD staff identifying plant species at a survey site.

Preserving the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is important because it is a unique landscape in California that not only provides a home to thousands of vital species but also provides a large amount of water from its snowpack to California residents. This beautiful place is also home to five National Parks and Monuments! The Sierra Nevada Mountain Range has more than 400 endemic plant species and many unique endemic animals. Meghan looks forward to continuing her work to protect and preserve this treasured region.

A natural spring site that is being surveyed by SNAP members and ICWD staff.

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