Purpose: The purpose of this project is to quantify and monetize the carbon sequestration capacity of healthy meadows, using the Upper Feather River Watershed (UFRW) as a feasibility study. This approach aims to incentivize investments in multi-benefit meadow restoration activities on privately-owned meadowlands in the region.
Background: In the 1800s, California’s rivers were engineered to deliver water in support of the newfound state. Today, an extensive system of built infrastructure in conjunction with natural waterways is “operated” to provide water for habitat, human consumption, agriculture, and hydroelectricity. The system’s ability to meet the increased demands for water and power, as well as environmental flows, depends on the functioning of the “green infrastructure” of the headwaters and the restoration and protection of key areas, such as meadows.
Healthy meadows are among the most valuable green infrastructure in the Sierra Nevada. They provide a disproportionate number of ecosystem services compared to the area they cover, including flood attenuation, sediment filtration, water storage, water quality improvement, carbon sequestration, and livestock forage. Prior to European contact, hydrologically functional meadows existed across the region; however, beginning in the 1850s, livestock grazing became widespread, leading to degraded meadows that cease to function as wetlands and instead have ongoing erosion, and degraded water quality. There are an estimated 190,000 acres of meadows in the Sierra Nevada and 50 percent are considered to be degraded from overgrazing.
The UFRW features an abundance of meadows as compared to the rest of the Sierra Nevada. Within the UFRW alone approximately 39,384 acres of meadow exists. Restoration of these ecosystems will enhance the capacity of meadows to perform their stabilizing functions, to the benefit of all water users along the river’s 185 miles from the headwaters to its confluence with the Sacramento River.