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Instream Restoration Riparian Restoration Fish Passage
Feather River Watershed Plumas County, California browse | search
The information and text for this case history was taken from the Feather River Coordinated Resource Management website at
Project Type: Instream Restoration, Riparian Restoration, Fish Passage, and Watershed Approach
  Feather River watershed project map.  
Subcategory: Bank Stabilization, Channel Restructuring, Flow Management, Revegetation, Grazing Management, Fish Ladders, and Road Culverts
Project Dates: 1985 to Ongoing
Lead Agencies: Plumas Corporation and the Feather River Coordinated Resource Management (FRCRM) group
Project Partners: The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management (FRCRM) group is a partnership of 22 public and private sector groups:

Click here for a listing.

Project Location: The Feather River watershed is located in Northern California in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It drains 3,222 square miles of land base from the Sierran crest westward into the Sacramento River.
Project Description: The Feather River watershed has long been recognized for its recreational and aesthetic value. An abundance of montaine rivers, lakes and reservoirs dot the landscape, creating both summer and winter recreational opportunities. Water originating from these drainages also represents a significant component of the State Water Project and provides high quality water for hydro power generation, agriculture, industry and cities in the south. The Feather River watershed has been impacted by over 140 years of intense human use. Past mining, grazing and timber harvest practices, wildfire, and railroad and road construction have contributed to the degradation of over 60 percent of the watershed, resulting in accelerated erosion, degraded water quality, decreased vegetation and soil productivity, and reducing the productivity and diversity of fish and wildlife populations in the Feather River and tributary streams. Annually, 1.1 million tons of sediment are delivered to Rock Creek Dam at the downstream end of the East Branch North Fork Feather River (EBNFFR) of which 80 percent is attributable to human activities. Long-term vegetation disturbance and consequent gully erosion have led to a dramatic change in hydrology, leading to reduced summer flow, higher summer water temperature, lower water tables, reduced meadow storage capacity, and a trend from perennial to intermittent flow. Many downcut streams no longer sustain late-season flow, causing adverse consequences to riparian and upland vegetation, aquatic communities, and downstream water users. Recreationists were finding fish populations reduced and more dispersed due to the lack of overhanging riparian vegetation, poor water quality, and warm water temperatures.

Before restoration, Wolf Creek had poor bank stability and an incised channel.




From the same vantage point on Wolf Creek showing recovery using rock vanes, bank shaping and vegetation transplants to stabilize the bank toe so that vegetation could become established.

Project Goals: The Feather River Coordinated Resource Management (FRCRM) group is an alliance of natural resource agencies, local landowners, private and public interests that work on erosion control and watershed restoration.

The FRCRM was organized in 1985 to set up guidelines and goals for working together on erosion control projects. The goals are:
  • Identifying erosion sources,
  • Coordinating between public and private landowners,
  • Implementing erosion control projects where practical,
  • Ensuring project cost-effectiveness for contributors, and
  • Developing a cooperative regional erosion control plan.

The FRCRM consists of four committees that interact to carry out all aspects of restoration projects.  The overall program is managed by Plumas Corporation, which maintains full-time staff to provide administrative coordination and technical support to the FRCRM committees. For a complete description of the committees and the structure and function of the FRCRM click here.

Since inception, members of the FRCRM recognized the critical link between watershed condition and local economic stability, and the important role restoration plays in sustaining this balance. Building stakeholder partnerships was identified as the best vehicle to achieve restoration goals, which promoted the adoption of the CRM approach.

The FRCRM restoration effort has evolved from implementing demonstration projects located mid-level in the watershed that treat sediment supply problems, to restoring the water and sediment retention and release functions in headwater reaches. Over time, the restoration approach has evolved from a project level focus to a broader watershed scale. Historical and current watershed effects are taken into consideration in the design and implementation process via watershed analysis. In addition, emphasis has shifted from a “project-of-opportunity” approach to a strategic approach that provides for long-term watershed maintenance in the highest priority areas at the right time. The FRCRM has also formed partnerships with academia to apply better science to restoration projects and better understand watershed processes.

Project Methods: The FRCRM has developed a systematized, coordinated, long-range resource restoration and management system conducted on a sub-watershed, watershed, and landscape scale as opposed to an individual project scale. This new direction follows in the wake of the FRCRM’s own experience and recent advances in scientific research which have increased the understanding of natural processes, biological diversity, and riparian ecosystem health. To learn more about the process, click here.

The FRCRM has chosen to apply the fluvial Geomorphic Stream Classification System developed by Dave Rosgen (1985) for stream restoration in the Feather River watershed. For more information on the Rosgen Stream Classification System, click here.

Since the inception of the Feather River CRM, over 50 watershed projects have been completed, including studies and assessments, stream restoration, monitoring, resource management plans, strategic planning, community outreach and educational activities. Intensive water quality and channel condition inventories have been conducted on approximately 40 percent of the EBNFFR watershed. Projects have included restoration of an urban stream and an abandoned mine, meadow re-watering, check dam building, and installation of fish ladders. At least 14.5 miles of stream and 4,000 riparian acres have been treated, producing 94 full- or part-time jobs. Stream bank stabilization, decreases in erosion, and increases in water table height and wildlife habitat quality have been documented for some projects.

Since inception, the Feather River CRM has known that mountain meadows play a key role in affecting watershed condition and water flow in the northern Sierra Nevada. Restoration of degraded meadows is the first step in improving overall watershed function and could have major effects on surface and subsurface flow regimes, which influence water delivery downstream. This is especially important in the Feather River watershed since there are over 250,000 acres of meadow and small mountain valleys, of which an estimated 98 percent are degraded. Below are two restoration projects addressing the common problem in the Feather River watershed of channel erosion and incision, resulting in disconnection of the channel from its floodplain and dewatering of the adjacent meadow. The Red Clover Creek Erosion Control Demonstration project was one of the first projects to address this problem using the check dam technique. The Big Flat Meadow Restoration Project uses a new, more innovative and sustainable approach, which involves abandonment of the creek's old incised gully, diversion of the creek into a remnant channel on the meadow floor above, filling the old incised channel, and converting sections of it into a series of ponds to create wildlife habitat.
Big Flat Meadow Restoration Project
Red Clover Creek

A typical, naturally-occurring B channel in the Feather River watershed.


A constructed B channel on the Phase II section of Wolf Creek in the Feather River watershed.


Willow matting on Blakeless Creek in the Feather River watershed helps stabilize meanders and establish plant success.

Monitoring Data and Collection Method: The Feather River CRM has implemented a comprehensive monitoring program within the Feather River watershed. There are four main stream systems covered under the monitoring program: Indian and Spanish Creeks (which together make the East Branch North Fork Feather River), the North Fork Feather, and the Middle Fork Feather. Most of the monitoring effort is concentrated in the Indian Creek watershed because of its highly degraded upper watershed condition, and high potential for restoration with many square miles of alluvial valleys.

The monitoring approach on the Feather River watershed varies in scale, parameters measured, and sampling interval. They are highlighted below:
  • Assessment of the baseline watershed condition prior to initiating the monitoring program. Parameters are selected based on discussions with the Forest Service and data available, and are made available in a GIS format. Comparison of the baseline to future watershed condition will support efforts to interpret and understand quantitative data collected at permanent sampling stations and reference reaches.
  • Continuous monitoring of temperature and surface flow at eight continuous recording stations located strategically within the watershed.
  • Continuous monitoring of turbidity data at two locations using two types of instruments.
  • Collection of bedload and suspended sediment samples in high flow conditions.
  • Periodic collection of conductivity and pH data with a hand-held meter.   
  • Biannual monitoring of 21 designated reference reaches, which includes selected physical and biological parameters. Measurements include stream morphology, water chemistry, habitat, macro-invertebrates, and fisheries. Aerial and ground photographs at pre-determined locations are taken for comparison between years.  
The selected monitoring strategy is based on a modified version of the Stream Condition Inventory (SCI) protocol developed by the U.S. Forest Service. The program is integrated with other ongoing Feather River monitoring activities conducted by federal and state agencies, as well as citizens.  A GIS data management system that is compatible with the Plumas National Forest system has been developed to facilitate data storage, analysis and sharing.  For the monitoring data management system, click here. A technical subcommittee composed of FRCRM Monitoring Committee members, agency specialists, and academic reviewers provide technical guidance on the implementation of the program.
Was this project effective and how was this determined? Because the Feather River Restoration Project is a large, watershed-scale approach and has such a long history, the staff at Plumas Corp. have been able to evaluate effects of restoration techniques, and modify them when necessary, through monitoring and observing stream response to flood events and pressure from human activity. An excellent publication describing their evaluation of the diversity of stream restoration techniques used in the Feather River watershed can be read on-line: “Evaluation of Geomorphic Stream Restoration Techniques Applied to Fluvial Systems”.
For more information on this project contact:
Jim Wilcox, Plumas Corp. by e-mail at or by telephone at (530)283-3739.
This information was collected by: Kristin Keith

Updated: February 16, 2007
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