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Mono Indian tribe seeks protection of California watersheds in response to drought

by Dorian Merina | Take Two®

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Ron Goode, North Fork Mono Tribal Chairman, teaching children about California Indians and the land near one of the Tribe's restoration sites at Lost Lake in 2010. John Minkler, Center for Multicultural Cooperation

Governor Jerry Brown has outlined nearly $700 million in measures to respond to California's drought. The proposed legislation outlines funds to recapture and re-use storm water, increase conservation, and get relief to the hardest-hit areas, including 17 communities at risk of running out of drinking water in the coming months.

But one California Indian tribe is also trying to put the emphasis on long-term solutions, including focusing on where water is coming from and what can be done to better protect the state's watersheds, streams and meadows.  

Much of the current tribal land of the North Fork Mono is forestland in the hills and mountains of the Sierras, home to important snowpack and rivers that feed the thirsty valley floor.

“When you’re trying to restore the water, you have to restore the land first so the land is functioning properly,” said Ron Goode, Tribal Chair for the North Fork Mono Tribe.  “Most folks look at the river drainage as the watershed, but they don’t realize that the water comes from all over in the mountains.”

The health of the region’s meadows – key areas that retain and slowly release water — are in dire shape. Out of some 6,000 meadows in the Sierra Nevada, estimates Goode, only six could be considered healthy. Turning that number around could offer benefits for California’s farms and cities.

A US Forest Service survey found that meadow restoration in the Sierra Nevadas could increase the amount of groundwater stored in meadows by 50,000 ac-ft yearly.

“Even when we have light years of rain and snow, we’ll still be able to sustain what we need to be able to do as far as farming and anything else is concerned,” said Goode.

On Goode’s ranch in Clovis, at the foothills of the Sierras, the 62 deer he raises do have enough water -- for now. He estimates that the water table on his 3.5-acre farm has dropped two feet over the past decade.

He welcomed the federal and state response to the drought so far, but without more permanent solution, he said he expected water issues to continue.

California needs "to get our forest back to functioning the way it’s supposed to,” he said.

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