In the 1850s, immigrants seeking gold in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains created a connected network of open channels, wooden flumes, and pipes to direct water to their operations and the rapidly-growing foothill towns of Sonora, Columbia, and Jamestown. 

170 years later, this historic system is an integral part of the water infrastructure that supports residential, agricultural, hydroelectric, ecosystem, and recreational purposes, providing nearly all of the drinking water to the west slope communities of Tuolumne County. Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD), the agency responsible for managing the 70-plus miles of raw water ditches and potable water infrastructure, is contending with a modern-day concern: the threat of severe wildfire.

Conservation Biology Institute is proud to partner with EN2 Resources, Inc. and the Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD) to develop the TUD Wildfire Defense Plan, a roadmap for addressing wildfire risk to the water system and water treatment facilities.

The TUD Wildfire Defense Plan will have two components: CBI is heading up a Wildfire Risk Mitigation Plan to guide projects that achieve fuels reduction, habitat enhancement, and recreation benefits. EN2 is developing a Wildfire Protection Draft-Points Plan for strategically identifying raw water draft-points along the raw water ditches for fire response and preserving precious potable water.

This section of flume of called “Flume A” is a one mile long gold-rush era wooden structure that diverts water from the south fork of the Stanislaus River to a branching system of earthen channels and other shorter sections of flumes below. Laborers in the 1800’s, sometimes hanging from ropes in the steep canyons, built this and the four other wood and metal flumes of Tuolumne County to supply high-pressure water to hydraulic mining, sluicing operations, and lumber mills.

Together these plans will help TUD manage the system as “green infrastructure”, a vision that addresses the integrated needs of people, the communities, and biodiversity under climate change. TUD, together with Pacific Gas & Electric, the US Forest Service, CALFIRE, Tuolumne County, Tuolumne Fire Safe Council and the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians are already working intensively to reduce fuels in the region, and this Plan will assist the agency in obtaining the funding needed to continue this important work.

The TUD Wildfire Defense Plan will be completed by the end of the year. Funding for this project comes from the USDA Forest Service Community Wildfire Defense Grant.

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