Salinas River Symposium 2023 Presentations

Reconnecting the River


Speakers from the Wildland Fire and Fuels Management Program at California Polytechnic State University, Tom Hicks, Attorney at Law, The Groundwater Sustainability Department of San luis Obispo County, Trinity River Restoration Program, Creek Lands Conservation, Lower Salinas Valley Watershed, and Senator John Laird addressed a variety of subjects related to the Salinas River.


Fire Prevention in the Salinas River Corridor

Because of numerous human-caused wildfire ignitions in the Salinas River corridor, including one that burned homes bordering the river, the Paso Robles Fire Department enacted multiple fuel treatments to reduce the potential for a devastating wildfire there.  These included mechanical treatments to reduce the coarse woody fuel load, and a follow-up treatment via goats to reduce the herbaceous fuel loading.  We quantify the changes to various vegetation and woody components present in the river corridor, and subsequently model potential fire behavior before and after the fuel treatments.

Christopher A. Dicus – Dr. Dicus is a Professor and Coordinator of the Wildland Fire and Fuels Management Program at California Polytechnic State University. Dr. Dicus is the past President of the Association for Fire Ecology, is Coordinator of the Wildland-Urban Interface Module of the California Fire Science Consortium, sits on the Board of Directors of the San Luis Obispo County FireSafe Council, and is a Principle Investigator in the Wildland-Urban Interface F.I.R.E. Institute at Cal Poly.

Adriana Stagnaro is completing a Master of Science degree in Environmental Sciences and Management from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Her Masters project evaluates the effectiveness of the Salinas River Vegetation Management Project in Paso Robles to reduce fire behavior by assessing fuel load in and outside of the project area and modeling fire behavior with accessible software programs. The methodology used in this research may be appropriate for other land managers in assessing fire behavior and planning fuels management projects in other areas of the Salinas River watershed. Adriana has a B.A. (2013) Environmental Studies from Gonzaga University, and is a Project Manager for the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District (RCD) in her native Sonoma County, Ca. In her capacity at the RCD, she develops and manages voluntary conservation and habitat enhancement projects on private land, including wildlife habitat enhancement, forest management planning, wildfire protection planning, and public education.

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Water Law and Ecological Sustainability in the Salinas River

This session will include: (1) an overview and introduction to water rights (riparian, appropriative, and groundwater) and the key state agencies with jurisdiction over water and water rights; (2) review of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) and the relationship between groundwater pumping and surface flows; (3) examples of different project-types that fall into a general category of parcel-scale and distributed solutions; and (4) emphasis on sustainable water management for water supply and quality benefits

Tom Hicks, Attorney at Law – Tom Hicks is a California water law, real property, and conservation attorney who represents a variety of public interest organizations, landowners, and others on select public policy, transactional, private and public grant fundraising, administrative, regulatory, and litigation matters. He is a recognized California and western regional expert in the water law sub-niche of voluntary water right transactions and instream transfers. He has over a decade of real property and water rights experience on conservation easement transactions and stream flow enhancement projects worth tens of millions of dollars representing clients in California and across the west.   Tom is the author of the Water Education Foundation Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of California water rights law available to non-lawyers.

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Status of GSP Implementation in the Salinas Valley – Paso Robles Area Subbasin

The presentation will summarize the Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) development process and the current status of the projects and management actions that are being implemented to move the basin towards sustainability.

Blaine Reely – Blaine Reely currently serves as the Director of Groundwater Sustainability for the County of San Luis Obispo. The Groundwater Sustainability Department is relatively new and was created by the Board of Supervisors in 2021. Blaine was hired as the first Director and started work in November 2021. He comes from the private sector and previously worked as a consulting civil engineer and hydrologist for the past 40+ years. He received his education at the University of Arizona and Oklahoma State University and has a PhD in civil engineering and hydrology. In his current position, he serves as the County’s representative in the six “managed” groundwater basins in the County.

Adaptive Management on the Trinity River Restoration Program

Since 2000, the Trinity River Restoration Program has endeavored to increase anadromous fish populations through adaptively managing channel rehabilitation projects, sediment augmentation, and flow management activities. Monitoring of habitat, outmigrating juvenile fish, and the movement of injected gravel has led to many changes over the last two decades. In particular, investigations of the interactions between flows and the Trinity River’s physical shape (topography and bathymetry), and how these interactions translate to fish habitat, have led to new approaches in channel rehabilitation project design, post-project evaluation, and flow management. This presentation highlights how adaptive management, informed by monitoring, has led to important changes over the life of the Program.  Monitoring in an adaptive management program should be closely linked to management actions, while also considering scientific uncertainties. However, monitoring is costly and can compete with funds that could be used for direct restoration work, so scoping a monitoring plan that provides just enough information to inform decision-making is critical. After two decades of monitoring on the Trinity River, some information has proven to be much more valuable than others. These lessons learned at the Trinity River Restoration Program can be applied to the Salinas River.

James Lee – James Lee is the Science Coordinator at the Trinity River Restoration Program and is employed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Presently, he coordinates monitoring and reporting activities across the 8-agency partnership to provide information needed to adaptively manage flows, sediment augmentation, and channel rehabilitation activities. Prior to his current position, he was a riparian ecologist with the Hoopa Valley Tribe and focused on the Trinity River. His professional interests include fish and wildlife conservation, specifically how to interpret and use scientific information in natural resource decision-making.

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Salinas River Watershed Coordination 2018-2020

The Upper Salinas Las Tablas RCD received funding from Biodiversity First! to coordinate with other agencies and projects along the Salinas River. The RCD contracted with Creek Lands Conservation to complete the project’s objectives including the feasibility of a two-county watershed management plan. Creek Lands worked with Stillwater Sciences to produce a Steelhead trout conceptual model that can be used across the two counties. We will share the results of the work focusing on recommendations and possible next steps.

Following this presentation, John Olson will present work he and his students have done using environmental DNA to occurrences of the California floater and winged floater (Anodonta californiensis/nuttalliana) in the upper Salinas watershed on Fort Hunter-Liggett. He will also discuss future plans to use eDNA to detect other species.

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Stephnie Wald, Watershed Projects Manager, Creek Lands Conservation – Steph has been Central Coast Salmon Enhancement’s Watershed Projects Manager since 2003. Her passion is helping CCSE think like a watershed by accomplishing the completion of watershed management plans for Nipomo Creek, Arroyo Grande Creek, Pismo Creek, Santa Rosa Creek, Big Sur River and the San Antonio and Naciemiento Rivers with partner agencies on the Central Coast. When not working at Creek Lands Conservation, Steph is busy with the Carrizo Plain Conservancy and living at Tierra Nueva Cohousing in Oceano. She enjoys hiking, reading, and eating at her favorite restaurant, the Common House at Tierra Nueva.

Tim Delany, Hydrologist, Creek Lands Conservation – When a California drought turned Tim’s green neighborhood to brown, it narrowed his many broad interests into a powerful curiosity that propelled him to complete a B.S. in Environmental Management and Protection at Cal Poly in 2017, especially relishing courses in hydrology and geomorphology. Since earning his degree, his recreational passions — whether skiing down a mountain, foraging for mushrooms, or hiking along a river — have much more meaning. Now Tim installs sensors along creeks and in aquifers, and translates the data into maps and graphs to help other people transform old perspectives into new ones. Tim makes it a point to learn from people whose path is different from his: whether on their farms or in their offices, Californians all have their own perspectives on what we should do about our water.

John Olson is a freshwater scientist at California State University Monterey Bay who studies the ecology of streams and rivers and how they are influenced by the landscape around them. He examines freshwater ecosystems using a variety of tools like DNA, satellites, and models to better understand how they function. He then applies this knowledge to developing ways to improve the management and health of rivers and streams. Some of his recent projects include modeling water chemistry to establish nutrient criteria nationwide, examining the effects of river restoration, and using environmental DNA and models to monitor and manage endangered species.

Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program: Creating a More Resilient Salinas Valley Through Repurposing Flood-prone Farmlands

The Greater Monterey County Integrated Regional Water Management Group, in partnership with the Central Coast Wetlands Group and other regional organizations, has been awarded a $10 million grant by the California Department of Conservation through the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program to strategically and voluntarily acquire and repurpose the least viable, most flood-prone portions of irrigated agricultural lands in the lower Salinas Valley. Projects on these lands will help reestablish sustainable groundwater supplies – while also providing benefits to landowners, adjacent communities and freshwater ecosystems. This program is in the early stages of implementation – vision, process, progress and example projects will be discussed in this talk.

Jenny Balmagia – Jenny is the Lower Salinas Valley Watershed Coordinator at the Central Coast Wetlands Group, a research affiliate of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.  As watershed coordinator she is responsible for coordinating the implementation of multiple benefit watershed projects through facilitating interagency coordination and partnership development with regional stakeholders including surface and groundwater managers, agricultural entities, and community-based groups. Jenny received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology in 2014 from Reed College in Portland, Oregon and her Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management, specializing in water resources management, from the Bren School of Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara in 2020.

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Closing address by Senator John Laird - Managing the River in a Changing Climate

Senator John Laird represents the 17th State Senate District, which includes all of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties, the majority of Monterey County, as well as parts of Santa Clara County. He previously served as the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, member of the State Integrated Waste Management Board, a member of the State Assembly, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Aids Project, and two terms as Santa Cruz Mayor. His lifetime of public service and social justice advocacy saw him become one of the first openly gay mayors to serve in the United States. Senator Laird has been a long-time resident of Santa Cruz with his spouse John Flores.