For the Love of Clean Water – Sierra Streams Institute

Founded in the late 1990’s as Friends of Deer Creek to monitor the water way during the demolition and reconstruction of the Pine Street Bridge in Nevada City, Sierra Streams Institute (SSI) has grown into a regional science-based institution focused on education, restoration, and research, serving the Deer Creek Watershed, the Bear River, the Yuba River and most recently, the surrounding forest area in Nevada County.

Having landed on a 236-acre site that included meadows, forests, streams, ponds, and trails, SSI was busy collecting data, working on salmon habitat restoration, trail development, science education, and other projects when the Jones Fire tore through the campus last August, destroying their facility.

The organization has spent a good deal of the past year replacing equipment, finding a new home, and continuing the good work of data collection and water testing along with several other projects that make up the work of Sierra Streams Institute.  

Speaking with Interim Executive Director Jeff Lauder, it’s clear the organization continues to grow and evolve as the need for science-based data around the watersheds and surrounding forest expands.   

Lauder said while the fire destroyed many records, the water monitoring data had been backed up and they were able to rebuild that long history.  The organization lost much of their equipment and of course, the space to do the work.  Couple the fire with Covid, and the organization has been stretched to rebuild while continuing the important task of monitoring and restoration. 

A lab on the Sierra College Nevada County Campus became the temporary location where all the repurchased instruments and lab apparatus is housed.   While SSI was insured, the full value of their policy did not cover most of the replacement costs of the highly technical equipment.  The State of California was helpful in donating both equipment and funds to assist in replacing many of the tools needed but SSI continues to seek funding to get back to the level at which they were operating prior to the fire and to the pandemic.  

 SSI recently signed a lease on a new office and is reconstructing their lab.  While they are rebuilding, they are also looking at ways to improve, which Lauder said is an unexpected benefit of losing everything! 

SSI volunteers and staff monitor 18 sites on the Deer Creek Watershed and five on the Bear River Watershed each month for a half a dozen or more issues including PH balance, cloudiness, conductivity, nitrate levels, oxygenation, and other factors that might affect the fish and other life forms.   Lauder said they do this using high-tech equipment.  “We use intensive, really cool, expensive and exciting- to -use equipment.  We train our volunteers in the protocols we use.  The water samples are brought back to the lab where we also measure bacteria concentrations so we can tell you if it’s safe to swim, safe for your dog, etc.  It’s a huge intensive effort and that is just the monitoring.”

Lauder went on to explain that SSI then will work on projects that the monitoring revealed in the form of restoration.  Another outcome of the ongoing monitoring, SSI was able to identify issues at Lake Wildwood with e coli and with a goose issue that was affecting the health and safety of the water.  

Volunteers are always welcome and needed.  Lauder said no prior knowledge is required as they offer training and even internships.  He said there are also opportunities for those with technical skills who might enjoy things like GIS mapping, working with sophisticated equipment and tools, including drones.  

Lauder said Deer Creek is a stable watershed.  SSI is dedicated to do what they can to make sure it stays that way.   He concluded, “Science is something we all can do.  We just have to be careful in how we do it—making sure we are following proper protocols and being aware of biases.  We think the community should feel empowered to do science and to use technology and to collect data and make informed decisions and we are excited to contribute to that again.”

Find out more at

The Tech Connection will be sitting down with Helen Fitanides from SSI for TechTonic Tuesday TV to discuss in depth the tech in use, the science behind it all and how you can get involved to help keep local waterways clean, tune in here

  by Hollie Grimaldi Flores

Similar Posts