What are Atmospheric Rivers?
Learn more about these rivers in the sky
Although atmospheric rivers come in many shapes and sizes, those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor and the strongest winds can create extreme rainfall and floods, often by stalling over watersheds vulnerable to flooding. These events can disrupt travel, induce mudslides and cause catastrophic damage to life and property. A well-known example is the “Pineapple Express,” a strong atmospheric river that is capable of bringing moisture from the tropics near Hawaii over to the U.S. West Coast.
Not all atmospheric rivers cause damage; most are weak systems that often provide beneficial rain or snow that is crucial to the water supply. Atmospheric rivers are a key feature in the global water cycle and are closely tied to both water supply and flood risks — particularly in the western United States.
While atmospheric rivers are responsible for great quantities of rain that can produce flooding, they also contribute to beneficial increases in snowpack. A series of atmospheric rivers fueled the strong winter storms that battered the U.S. West Coast from western Washington to southern California from Dec. 10–22, 2010, producing 11 to 25 inches of rain in certain areas. These rivers also contributed to the snowpack in the Sierras, which received 75 percent of its annual snow by Dec. 22, the first full day of winter.
NOAA research (e.g., NOAA Hydrometeorological Testbed and CalWater) uses satellite, radar, aircraft and other observations, as well as major numerical weather model improvements, to better understand atmospheric rivers and their importance to both weather and climate.
Scientific research yields important data that helps NOAA’s National Weather Service forecasters issue warnings for potential heavy rain and flooding in areas prone to the impacts of atmospheric rivers as many as five to seven days in advance.
To learn more about atmospheric rivers, please visit: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/atmrivers/.
What is a Watershed?
A Watershed is an area or ridge of land that separates waters flowing to different rivers, basins or seas. These could also be areas or regions drained by a river, river system or body of water.
As precipitation falls to the Earth, it remains on the surface, evaporates or seeps into the ground. Surface water includes lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Water beneath the land surface that is not held in the soil is called groundwater. Rain and snow are the principal sources of groundwater in the mountains.
Since only pure water evaporates, pollution is left behind. Even though this pollution does not enter our water cycle, it is still present in our streams, rivers and oceans. For this reason, we must be concerned with what we put into our water systems.
Beneath the surface layers of soil is a thick bed of hard rock. The bedrock is full of cracks or fractures, created over millions of years. Water collects in some of these cracks and, if the fractures are connected, passes through. A well may access one of these water-filled fractures and provide water. These cracks may not refill with water as quickly as it is used. When this happens, wells go dry.
Water is a precious commodity and it is important to use it wisely for the sake of everyone.
Here are Some Water Conservation Suggestions:
In the House:
- Check pipes and faucets for leaks. One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year!
- Test for toilet leaks by adding food coloring to the tank. If color appears in the bowl after 30 minutes, your toilet is leaking. One leaking toilet can waste 200 gallons of water a day!
- Install water-efficient toilets. Low-flush models can save 8,500 gallons per year for the average household.
- Turn off the water or install a flip on/off aerator for use when brushing your teeth or shaving.
- Install low-flow showerheads and save up to 40 gallons per shower.
- Run your dishwasher and washing machine only when you have a full load.
- Take short showers instead of baths. Baths can use 30 to 50 gallons of water.
- Showers use 5 gallons of water per minute or less if a flow constrictor is installed.
- When washing dishes by hand, don’t let the water run freely to rinse. Fill up the second side of your sink with rinse water.
- Fill a pitcher of water with drinking water in your refrigerator. Do not cool the tap water by running it every time you want a drink.
- Catch shower and sink warm-up water in a pan or bucket and use it to provide water for plants and pets.
- When it’s time to replace your washing machine, buy a water-saving model. These models use up to 1/3 less water and half the energy.
- Install a hot water recirculation system in your house. These systems keep the water hot in the water line so you don’t waste water waiting for it to heat up. An average household can save a minimum of 15,000 gallons of water annually.
- Water lawns and gardens during the coolest part of the day.
- Use a drip irrigation system, instead of sprinklers, to apply water slowly exactly where it is needed.
- Collect rain from your home’s gutter system in a rain barrel to use for watering.
- Use a bucket of water and a spray head on the hose to wash your car. A running hose wastes over 100 gallons of water in the time it takes to wash your car.
- Choose plants that are native to the area where you live (and/or plants that are drought resistant) for landscaping.
- Reduce the use of chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides that can get into the water table.
Mountain Meadows are Important
Healthy meadows can filter out sediment and pollutants, improving water quality. Meadows tend to have smaller channels so when there are high flows they more frequently overtop the banks, allowing for percolation to subsurface storage, and by filtering out suspended sediment, healthy riparian vegetation builds stream banks and increase the seasonal quality of water released for downstream ecosystems and human users. Road-building, overuse of habitat, development and catastrophic wildfire have resulted in the widespread deterioration of the majority of our meadows. Also, leaving the forests unmanaged can cause encroachment of trees and plant around the meadows slowly depleting their area and water.
What are the characteristics of a meadow?
1. A meadow is an ecosystem type composed of one or more plant communities dominated by herbaceous species;
2. Meadows support plants that use surface water and/or shallow groundwater (generally at depths less than 1 yd.) during at least 2-4 weeks of the growing season;
3. Hydrologic sources include snowmelt, surface water from streams, and/or groundwater discharge near the land surface (generally at depths of less than 1 yd.);
4. Woody vegetation, like trees or shrubs, may occur and be dense but are not dominant;
5. Soils range from mineral soils to highly organic soils (peats);
6. Low stream gradients, if a stream channel is present, typically less than 2%.
Why are Meadows in the Sierra Nevada important?
More than 60 percent of California’s developed water supply originates in the Sierra Nevada, serving end users throughout the State. In addition, the region contains a rich diversity of ecosystems, supporting 50 percent of California’s plant species and 60 percent of California’s animal species. The region also provides world class recreational opportunities enjoyed by millions around the world. Healthy meadows are important for local natural resource based economies supporting recreational, tourism, agricultural activities, among others.
Fully functioning meadows add resiliency to the hydrologic and ecological processes that sustain California’s headwaters, particularly during drought years which experts predict will be more common as climate warms. Decreases in snowpack storage are expected to occur in the central Sierra Nevada particularly at mid-level elevations (2000 to 3000 ft. above MSL,33). Many meadows depend upon hydrologic inputs derived directly or indirectly from snowmelt and bedrock stored groundwater and could therefore, be vulnerable to effects of climate change. However, the ability of meadows to store water from a variety of surface or subsurface sources makes them potential high elevation water storage alternatives to snowpack in the mountain landscape. In addition to water, healthy meadows can store roughly 1.5 to 2 times more soil carbon than degraded ones; however, higher carbon storage per unit area occurs in some meadows, such as fens, relative to others.
Many organizations and agencies have realized that healthy meadows provide a suite of benefits including improved groundwater storage, enhanced water quality, reduced peak flood flows, and critical habitat. Meadow restoration produces immediate changes in habitat such as: ground water levels are raised, streams recharged, and mountain meadow habitat enhanced.
Information from The Sierra Meadows Partnership November 2016
Sierra Meadows Strategy
Erosion & Sediment Control
Local water quality and quantity is being impaired by increasing amounts of sediment in seasonal creeks, streams, and rivers. Fact: sediment is the leading pollutant in our nation’s surface waters. This may be caused by ground disturbance during grading on construction sites, use of mechanical/heavy equipment on slopes, lack of or improperly sized culverts, inadequate gutters and drainage, improperly installed driveways and access roads, or any other activity that disturbs the soil and is not properly treated prior to the rainy season
– Protect cut-and-fill slopes with stabilizing material including vegetation, fiber cloth, straw, riprap (large rocks), gabions (wire baskets filled with rocks), retaining walls, or similar stabilizing materials.
– Install culverts according to local, regional, and state code standards.
– Manage vegetation on all riparian areas and/or disturbed areas.
– Seed exposed areas with native vegetation.
– Divert water from driveways and pathways to prevent gully erosion. Water bars may be used where appropriate.
– Minimize soil surface disturbance. Keep natural vegetation as much as possible.
– Do not remove naturally fallen pine needles and leaves from the ground surface, if possible.
– Clean and/or remove undesirable or person-caused debris from riparian areas.
– Avoid mechanical/machinery use on slopes greater than 30% whenever possible.
– Most importantly, re-vegetate all bare or disturbed soil with grass seed and straw mulch (be sure straw is certified weed free to prevent the introduction of noxious weeds).
– Install and maintain a sediment basin or trap to prevent sediments from leaving the site or property
How Much Water is Stored in Hard Rock?
The total volume of water stored in fractured hard rock is estimated to total less than 2 percent of the rock volume. This amount is small, so groundwater levels and a well’s yield can decline dramatically during the summers of dry years or during periods of increased demand.
How much water will a well yield?
The amount of water varies from well to well. A reliable well must intersect connected water-bearing fractures. Good conditions include:
• Size and location of the fractures;
• Large amounts of fractures;
• Good interconnection between fractures;
• Wide, large, clean fractures;
• A reliable source of recharge;
• A large quantity of water in storage; and
• Good proper installation of the well, including removal of granular debris that may clog fractures.
Protecting the well
The responsibility for ensuring a safe supply of private well water rests solely with the owner. Extra care should be taken to protect the quality of your groundwater supply. Here are some items to consider:
• Use a licensed contractor for all pump and well work.
• Test your water for bacteria at least once a year.
• Keep hazardous chemicals away from your well.
• Check your well cover to make sure the well is sealed.
• Keep good records of any well work and testing results.
• Be alert to changes in your water or well site.
• Eliminate access from livestock.
What Can You Do to Protect Local Waterways?
- Don’t pour used motor oil down the drain. Used motor oil or radiator coolant could pollute local waterways or harm aquatic life.
- If you own a RV empty your waste tank at one of the local RV dump stations located at Bass
Lake-Forks Dump Station, Chowchilla and Madera Fairgrounds, and the Yosemite South/Coarsegold Campground (to name a few) to prevent chemicals from entering the watershed.
- If you’re a dark room hobbyist, dispose of spent fixer, developer, and other photographic chemicals in separate containers and dispose of them on a hazardous waste disposal day. Like household hazardous wastes and used motor oil, photographic chemicals can result in pollutants being discharged into local waterways or groundwater.
Effects on Humans and the Ecosystems
What is PM 10? Particulate matter is made up of tiny, airborne pieces of soot, dust, fly ash, smoke and other solids or liquids. When inhaled, particulate matter can sneak through the body’s natural defense system, which includes nasal passages, mucous membranes and tonsils. The fine particles can carry into the body toxic chemicals that become lodged in the lungs, causing serious health problems. Some sources of particulate matter in the foothills are unpaved roads, construction and demolition, wild fires, and fires conducted for agricultural, residential and land management purposes.
Sources of PM10 Emissions in the San Joaquin Valley Air Basin are estimated at 481 tons per day (2000 Estimate). Sources include 26% from unpaved roads; 26% from farming operations;
15% from paved roads; 12% from windblown dust; 12% from waste burning; 6% from construction & demolition; and 3% other.
What’s Ozone? Ozone is a poisonous gas that helps protect humans when it occurs where it belongs: in the upper stratosphere. High above the Earth’s surface, the ozone layer helps filter out the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. But at ground level, ozone can be inhaled by people and can destroy lung and airway tissue, causing serious health problems. It is also harmful to animals, interferes with plant photosynthesis and erodes buildings and other man made material. A large part of the Valley’s ozone problem is due to mobile sources, such as cars and trucks.
Ozone in our mountain communities: Eight hour averaged ozone levels are higher in the foothill areas of the District than in many valley floor areas. During morning hours pollutants are held close to ground level by temperature inversions where temperature increases with height. As the day heats up, the surface layer where atmospheric mixing occurs grows. In addition, this heating causes upslope wind flow, and pollutants from SJV cities to be transported into mountain areas. On poor air quality days this mixing of the atmosphere is limited to the 3000-4000 foot level. Ozone levels transported into foothill and mountain areas stay moderately high into nighttime hours. This phenomenon occurs because ozone is both created and destroyed by fresh emissions. Once ozone is away from significant hydrocarbon and oxides of nitrogen sources concentrations can remain relatively high even into the night, thus creating broad peaks that result in high eight-hour averaged concentrations.
Incentives Promote Clean-Air Choices: Voluntary Programs
Financial incentive programs include Clean Green Yard Machines and Money for a newer, cleaner Vehicle program encouraging residents to invest in cleaner lawnmowers, passenger cars, and commercial vehicles.
The Clean Green Yard Machines Residential Rebate Program (Residential CGYM) provides two flexible options for rebates to San Joaquin Valley residents. Replace an old gas/diesel -powered lawn mower with a new electric lawn mower or purchase new electric powered landscape equipment for your yard!
The Valley Air District’s Replace program is available to individuals whose household income is at or below 400 percent of federal poverty level (FPL). Additionally, residents living in disadvantaged communities that choose to purchase a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or zero-emission vehicle can receive a higher funding amount. The tables below indicate the funding available based on the type of vehicle you intend to purchase, your household income and whether you live in a DAC zip code. The incentive calculator above can estimate your potential funding level.
Rules passed to reduce air pollution
1. Regulation VIII, which contains rules addressing fugitive PM10, was amended in late 2001. The rules were tightened to reduce the amount of airborne particles kicked up into the air by earthmoving operations, construction sites, unpaved and paved roads, as well as mining and oil operations. Road owners have the option of submitting a fugitive PM10 management plan to show how they’ll reduce dust emissions to 50 percent of a set standard. Without the plan, a road owner would have to ensure that dust from the road does not exceed 20 percent opacity. This means the dust cloud can block no more than 20 percent of the light coming through it. Otherwise, the road owner might be in violation of the regulation. The road owner also would be required to suppress dust on the road with water, approved oil treatments, or other methods.
2. Rule 4901 (Wood Burning Fireplaces and Wood Burning Heaters): This rule imposes mandatory “no burn nights” when the Air Quality Index reaches the unhealthy level of 150. This restriction does not apply to homes located above 3000 feet, without natural gas service, or for which the wood heater is the sole source of heat. The rule also limits the number and type of wood burning devices in new development, based on neighborhood density. The rule requires older, non-EPA-Phase II certified wood stoves to be removed or replaced at the sale of existing homes (this requirement does not apply to open-hearth fireplaces for which no EPA standard has been developed).
For more information please contact the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District at 559.230.6000. or on the web at www.valleyair.org.
THE INVASION OF INVASIVE NON-NATIVE PLANTS IN OUR WATERWAYS
Arundo is also known as, False bamboo, or giant reed, and can rapidly spread through our waterways; even into thickly vegetated areas, and crowd out the native plants. This bamboo looking plant shares a network of shallow roots that trap sediment, becoming a tremendous flood hazard and disrupting stream flow; often times the roots become undercut and break off taking soil with them causing landslides, clogging culverts and channels and redirecting the water. This plant with its unpalatable/toxic chemicals within its tissues provides no food or habitat for native animals; and its virtually non-existent canopy allows sunlight to raise the water temperature, causing water loss through evaporation and poor habitat for the fish by increasing water temperature. It is also a poor habitat for land animals due to no protection from predators and the weather. Arundo fuels dangerous wildfires, causes local flooding, and eliminates native plants and wildlife habitat.
Imagine our sloughs as highways for wildfire! It can happen when Arundo takes over. Arundo is highly flammable and burns even when green. When it carries fire into a waterway, riverside trees are killed and nearby crops and buildings may be destroyed; but Arundo grows back rapidly from its roots, thicker than before, and now without competition from other plants. Arundo transforms a naturally fire-resistant buffer along our sloughs into a threat to our environment and our homes. Arundo consumes more water than native species, Arundo consumes as much as 500 gallons of water per day. Arundo can also be a tremendous flood hazard. Its shallow roots are easily undercut by stream flow. The roots then break off from stream banks, taking soil with them. Clumps of Arundo float downstream and clog culverts and channels. The obstructions cause flooding and sometimes wash out bridges, resulting in millions of dollars of damage. Large Arundo infestations can alter stream flows by redirecting the water against stream banks, undercutting them and causing landslides.
Due to its rapid growth, Arundo consumes huge amounts of water, turning water use into water waste by consuming three times more water than native plants. The water wasted by Arundo is water that native plants, fish, wildlife, and people need to survive.
The Tree of Heaven is also known as Chinese Sumac, Ailanthus altissima, and is a deciduous tree up to 60 feet tall, with gray bark. This plant produces abundant root sprouts and seeds, thus forming large areas of thickets that displace native vegetation, especially in riparian areas; shoots typically have a life span of 30 to 50 years. Tree of Heaven produces chemicals that may prevent native plants from establishing near by. Because they spread rapidly and continuously, they often need to be eliminated, posing a health concern for those who remove them. Hand pulling of young plants is effective, provided most of the root is removed so that resprouting does not occur. When removing or trimming/cutting the trees, wear gloves, long sleeve shirts, and long pants, and make sure you do not have open cuts, ruptured blisters, or other breaks in the skin that are exposed. If the sap from the tree gets into any of the openings in the skin, you can become sick. The sap of the Tree of Heaven contains proteins called quassinoids; that may cause myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and other heart and gastrointestinal symptoms of illness.
Himalayan blackberry is a thorny, thicket forming shrub in the Rose family that produces large, edible blackberry fruits. Leaves are somewhat evergreen, divided into 3-5 leaflets that are rounded and have toothed edges. Flowers are small, white to light pink in flat-topped clusters of 5 to 20 flowers. Stems can grow 20 to 40 feet long and 13 feet tall, they can root at the tips when they touch the ground, and they have stout, hooked, sharp prickles with wide bases. The plant creates dense thickets that are impassable and sprawls over surrounding vegetation. It has large, deep, woody root balls that sprout at nodes. Himalayan blackberry out-competes native understory vegetation and prevents the establishment of native trees that require sun for germination. Dense and impenetrable blackberry thickets can block access of larger wildlife to water and other resources; not to mention causing problems for people trying to enjoy parks and natural areas. Himalayan blackberry is abundant along rivers and wetland edges, often blocking access to these areas. Riversides covered with blackberry often indicate degraded conditions and may mask eroding banks.
Biological Pollution: What you should know about invasive plants in California
A unique natural heritage
California is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and biologically rich landscapes. From redwood forests to oak woodlands, coastal dunes to desert springs and alpine meadows to delta sloughs. These landscapes are home to an astonishing variety of plants and animals. Many of these exist nowhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, these landscapes are being destroyed by invasive plants. Human development has disturbed nature’s processes, and every day invasive plants degrade more of our treasured natural heritage.
What are invasive plants?
When plant species that evolved in one region of the globe are moved to another region, a few of them flourish outside cultivation in their new home, crowding out native vegetation. These invasive plants have a competitive advantage because they are no longer held in check by their natural predators, and they can quickly spread out of control.
How do they get here?
Shipping, international travel, and the aquariums are main ways these plants arrive. Horticultural trades are major routes of introduction since some invasive plants are used in landscaping.
How do they spread?
• Fragments break off and regrow
• Birds or mammals carry seeds
• Seeds are blown by the wind
• Clothing and vehicles spread seeds
In California, 415 special status species are threatened by invasive plants; they rob sunlight, nutrients, and water from native plants that wildlife depends on. Invasive plants damage habitat for at least half the species federally listed as threatened or endangered.
Diminished outdoor recreation
Hunting and fishing are less rewarding, even impossible, when wildlife is under stress. Invasive plants can blanket waterways, trails, and scenic landscapes, making boating, hiking and other activities difficult, while lowering the land’s value for photography and wildlife viewing.
Degraded range and timber lands
Invasive plants impact working landscapes that support agriculture as well as wildlife. Rangeland invaders such as yellow Starthistle can be low in nutrition and even toxic to livestock, and removal costs decrease land values. On timber lands, Scotch broom invades forest openings, preventing tree seedling growth. U.S. agricultural losses to invasive weeds are estimated at $33 billion each year.
Increased wildfire potential
Invasive plants generate more fire fuels than the natives they replace. Their rapid and dense growth, along with high flammability, can change fire patterns in an area and be a recipe for catastrophic wildfire. Such fires can take a heavy toll on both wildlife and human communities.
Reduced water resources
Some invasive plants consume enormous quantities of precious water at the expense of wildlife, farms, boaters, and households. Tamarisk trees alone will cost $7-$16 billion in lost water over the next half-century.
Accelerated erosion and flooding
When invasive plants displace natives on streamsides and wetlands, the likelihood of flooding and erosion can be increased. In a vicious cycle, this erosion can enable even more establishment of invasive plants.
The California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) works to protect California wildlands from invasive plants through research, restoration, and education. The above information was provided by Cal-IPC and more can be found at www.cal-ipc.org.
Are you Fire-Ready?!
You are responsible for ensuring that your property is fire safe. It is important for homeowners to take proactive steps to protect their property from a wildfire not only in the woodland/urban interface areas, but as we have seen more and more, in the towns and cities as well. Homeowners and renters need to clear out flammable materials such as brush or vegetation around their buildings to 100 feet (or the property line) to create a defensible space buffer. This helps halt the progress of an approaching wildfire and keeps firefighters safe while they defend your home.
New homes to should be constructed with fire-resistant materials. By building your home with materials like fire-resistant roofing, enclosed eaves and dual-paned windows, you are hardening your home and giving it a fighting chance to survive a wildfire. This will also help prevent buildings from being ignited by flying embers, which can travel as much as a mile away from a wildfire. Or existing structures should be hardened for fire safety.
Do you know what to do if you had to leave in 5 minutes or if your family became trapped? Here are six ways you can prepare your home, family, animals, and property to survive any fire emergency.
#1 & #2 – Take a few minutes to keep your home, family, and possessions safe & protect from Embers – Click #1
#3 & # 4 – The six Evacuation Advisories you must be prepared for & the Evacuation Checklist –
Click Here to find more helpful tips that may save you, your family (two legged and four legged), and your property. And if you have not yet signed up to be notified in the event of a fire, flood or other emergency, now is the time to register. It is free and it’s important, not only for your safety but for the safety of first responders.
MCAlert is used to update residents regarding emergency evacuation during the fire season. By signing up, you will help keep everyone in the community safer including our deputies and firefighters. MCAlert is also used for other natural disasters such as floods, severe weather and missing persons, such as Amber or Silver Alerts when necessary.
To ensure you are receiving alerts, please sign up at maderacounty.com (click on the MCAlert logo) or go by the Madera County Sheriff’s Office to complete the form in person.
The system is free and beginning May 1, 2019, the phone number for calls from MCAlert has changed. Registered users should program the number 1-800-915-2371 into their phones as “MC ALERT” and if possible, assign a unique ringtone to this number to further prompt you to pick up.