Earth Day was still an infant, and the modern environmental movement was just getting its legs when the Yaudanchi Ecological Preserve was created in 1975. Click here for Tulare County Treasures website.
First we at Friends of Yaudanchi would like to thank for your interest in saving the Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve. The community of Porterville, however, is close to losing a small but signifigant piece of open space. We discovered that the irrigation ditch would be replaced with a pipeline that would devastate Yaudanchi and remove public access to YER. The following is a chronological description of what has, what is, and what will be happening to protect this little "Jewel of the Tule River.
Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve is approximately 162 acres and located on the eastern edge of Porterville, CA and immediately adjacent to Porterville Developmental Center. It is surrounded mostly by agriculture. It is owned by Porterville Developmental Center (California Dept. of Developmental Services) and has been (minimally) managed by California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife for 40 years. YER is also indicated in the Porterville General Plan as an open space of importance to the city and identified as a public use space. Add to that its importance to hundreds of wildlife and plant species and the fact that it is a component of the remaining Tule River floodplain, the strong argument can be made to keep it as such and even to enhance its function as an outdoor classroom for science, archeology, and history.
The riparian areas along the Tule River have supported wildlife and plant species for countless centuries; cycles of flooding created wetlands and natural ground recharge areas. In 1860, when early day pioneers began to plant crops, a ditch was constructed by Chinese laborers to channel some water from the main Tule River to a few farms. This ditch did not significantly reduce the volume of the Tule River or change the nature of the riparian areas along the river; likely it provided water that was not ordinarily there during dry seasons.
In 1958, construction began on the Success Dam on the Tule River; the dam caused significant changes to downstream riparian areas, but the small area that was traversed by the old dirt ditch survived as a riparian area likely because of the water escaping from the ditch. Little by little, farms and homes were built along the ditch and some parts of the ditch were lined with cement, however, for the area we call the Reserve, the dirt ditch remained and was its lifeline.
In 1945, a block of land was acquired by the State of California Department of Health, and the area we now call the Yaudanchi Reserve was surplus land adjacent to the Porterville State Hospital, (now the Porterville Developmental Center)
In 1976, the area was designated as the Yaudanchi Reserve. This effort was the result of the work of many civic organizations. There was a contract signed between the State Department of Health and California Department of Fish and Game (Now Fish and Wildlife) to manage the Reserve – it said “in perpetuity.”
This past November, we discovered that the Vandalia Irrigation District was in the final stages of approving the piping of the portion of the dirt ditch that feeds the Reserve’s riparian area. At first we believed that our only battle was to protect the water supply for this Reserve by preventing the Irrigation District from piping the water.
Our input to the Vandalia Irrigation District focused on the incomplete and inaccurate draft Mitigated Negative Declaration that was about to be signed. We surprised them by attending their public meeting – they did not appear to have expected any attendees. The Vandalia Irrigation District has not yet finalized the Decision; they said they would announce a continuation of the public meeting, but so far there has been no announcement of their intentions.
We submitted input based on a very narrow understanding of the project. Now we have much more information.
At the time we attended the meeting and submitted input, we thought we were protecting the Yaudanchi Reserve, managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. We did not fully realize that the Reserve had been very quietly closed and no longer existed as an official entity. (but it still exists as a natural wetland area!)
Prior to the Vandalia Irrigation District’s official notice of preparation of a Mitigated Negative Declaration on the piping project, the Porterville Developmental Center made the decision to close the Reserve. The signs were taken down; the public was locked out. There was no notice to the public about this and no opportunity to comment. There was no CEQA review of this decision. The Developmental Center quietly sent a letter to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife telling them that a clause in the contract allowed them to break the contract with 10 days’ notice – and they were doing that. (Prior to this notification, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife had submitted a letter of input regarding the CEQA process being carried out by the Vandalia Irrigation District. It was highly critical of the information in their Draft Mitigated Negative Declaration.)
Minutes of the Vandalia Irrigation District state that they waited to publish their Notice of Intent until the Developmental Center notified them that the contract with CDFW had been terminated; they were coordinating their actions with each other. The Developmental Center is a majority shareholder in the Irrigation District. I believe they were doing their best to circumvent CEQA. (Perhaps they thought if there were no official “Reserve” that might make the piping impacts seem less significant
Our requests under the Public Records Act have resulted in much more information. Now we know there were many activities that occurred prior to their public notice. It seems to me that they had already decided to do the project before they had done any studies.
We have dedicated people who have researched as much as possible. Documents and notes of their phone conversations and email messages are included. We had a lot to wade through.
We had several questions : among them is the question of whether or not the State Department of Health should have followed CEQA prior to their decision to close the Reserve and to end the contract with California Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage it: i.e. not have anyone manage the Reserve – to end it as a protected area. If they should have prepared CEQA documents, then we needed to challenge them right away. There is a strong possibility that the State has intentions to sell the land or to expand their facilities to accommodate their expected increase in “forensically challenged” clients (criminally insane). OF course, if they have such plans, then they should be part of any CEQA analysis.
As for the project to pipe the ditch, in June 2018, we managed to have an incredible victory: The VWD Board voted to NOT build the pipeline...at least for now, we speculated. (Yes, the Friends of Yaundanchi did take a moment to celebrate). To prevent this, and usher in a new public space for Porterville, our next step is to find a land managing entity to take lead on ensuring that Yaudanchi's ecological, cultural, and community functions be kept in tact.
Friends of Yaudanchi Reserve
Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve by Barbara Brydolf
Published in INSIGnis: Newsletter of the Alta Peak Chapter of California Native Plant Society
The Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve (YER) is a small piece of land (about 155 acres) inside the Porterville city boundaries. It is owned by the State of California and attached to the Porterville Developmental Center, bordering on the south side Highway 190. Formerly part of the Tule River channel, it was cut off from that supply of water when the Success Dam was built, but until now it continued to receive water ﬂow from the Campbell-Moreland Ditch, which is an open channel. It was declared an Ecological Preserve in 1976, open to the public and managed by the California Department of Fish and Game (now called the California Department of Fish and Wildlife).
The YER has a signiﬁcant amount of riparian (river) vegetation, containing willow (Salix sp.), cottonwood (Populus sp.), valley oak (Quercus lobata), and sycamore (Platanus racemosa). Kit fox, several raptors, and other species have been reported from the site, and it has hosted a Blue Heron rookery.! ! Recently, the Vandalia Irrigation District (VID) proposed to convert the open ditch crossing the property to a closed pipe. In November, VID issued a CEQA document (California Environmental Quality Act) stating that this action would have a minimal negative impact on the site.
I obtained a copy of the document (Notice of Intent to Adopt and Consideration of Mitigated Negative Declaration). The document states that the removal of water would have a negligible effect on the habitat at the site, but gave no evidence to support such a statement. The document also contains a letter from CDFW (CA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife) stating that the removal of water from enclosing the ditch in pipe would have a signiﬁcant negative effect on the property. However, after this letter was received by VID, the Porterville Developmental Center (who controls the property), requested that the land be removed from protection as an ecological preserve. As the preserve designation was an agreement between CDFW and PDC, and could be cancelled at the request of either party, the request was granted.
YER is no longer considered an ecological preserve, the signs were removed, and the property is no longer open to the public. On December 12, I attended a public hearing at the ofﬁces of VID to give feedback on the Notice of Intent document. Several interested parties were present and gave oral and written comments. I also made a statement and submitted a letter on behalf of CNPS Alta Peak, giving the opinion that the CEQA document did not adequately address the issues. Also, a group of concerned citizens are investigating the cancellation of the ecological preserve. Currently, the follow-up public hearing meeting for the adoption of a Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Campbell Moreland Ditch has been postponed to a later date to be determined. VID is reviewing comments received
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Yaudanchi: Local Treasure Saved or Public Land Lost?
By MYLES BARKER email@example.com | Posted: Saturday, July 21, 2018 6:00 am
There are three things Mehmet McMillan wants to see regarding the Porterville Yaudanchi Reserve: restoring public access to the reserve, putting the reserve’s signs and amenities back up, and hiring a good management agency to manage the reserve.
Simple requests, but ones that won’t be simple to get. Why?
Because in the Fall of 2017, with no public notice and no public input, the Porterville Developmental Center (PDC), which owns the reserve, terminated its agreement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage the Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve.
Located east of Porterville, Yaudanchi consists of over 160 acres of rare undeveloped Tule River floodplain habitat, providing upland and wetland habitat for a wealth of plants and animals, and until recently, people.
“The reserve was established in 1977 as the result of a campaign by Porterville citizens and organizations and agencies including the State Hospital (now PDC) and local politicians,” said McMillan, founder of the nonprofit organization WildPlaces. “For 40 years, the reserve has served as a public space with hiking trails, open to visitors and serving as an educational outdoor classroom.”
When concerned citizens discovered last fall the reserve had been closed to the public, their repeated calls to the PDC yielded no information other than the fact that Yaudanchi was no longer a reserve.
“The only reason given was that the reserve was no longer going to be managed for habitat and wildlife because of a pipeline,” McMillan said. “Gates were locked and signs removed. We wanted to know what happened.”
In November 2017, a few persistent citizens learned that “the pipeline” consisted of piping an unlined section of the Campbell-Moreland Ditch.
Seepage from the ditch, dug in 1860, that had sustained the downstream lands (now in the Yaudanchi Reserve) after construction of the Success Dam greatly reduced natural river flows in the floodplain.
A small classified ad in The Porterville Recorder on Nov. 16, 2017 stated that the Vandalia Water District (VWD) was intending to adopt the proposed pipeline project.
“It failed to mention that the ditch section to be lined was on the Yaudanchi Reserve and would effectively ensure its demise,” McMillan said.
However, Steve Drumright, the general manager for Vandalia Water District and Campbell-Moreland Ditch Company, said the proposed pipeline project, which consists of replacing an open ditch, has been put on hold.
“At our last regular Vandalia Board Meeting, we just decided that we would put the project on hold due to the opposition from the environmental community,” Drumright said, adding that the environmental community is not looking at the big picture. “They are just seeing a small ditch that has been there for many years and the loss of habitat for plants and animals. The big picture is to take a lot more water from different agencies and put in there via recharge basins, different ditching configurations and everything else through that property that would benefit a lot more people, a lot more animals and support a lot more plant species.”
If the project were to move forward, Drumright said it would have virtually no impact to the reserve.
“Basically, we would just move over 10 feet within our easement, put a pipeline in, put a headwall in the east end and a few valves to mitigate for the little patch of oak trees that is on the west end of the property and then turn water out in there as the trees would normally have had them,” Drumright said. “In other words, the existing channel would stay there, we would just move over 10 feet and put a pipeline in and run the water through that.”
But local conservation groups such as WildPlaces, and chapters of the California Native Plant Society (CNPS), the Audubon Society, and the Sierra Club say that stopping the critical seepage from the unlined ditch into the reserve would drastically impact the habitat and wildlife that the reserve was established to protect.
“The whole project and the whole ecosystem has to be considered,” said Joan Parker, representing Audubon. She expressed concern that the pipeline project documents did not adequately describe how both resident and migratory birds rely on the reserve habitat and how shutting off the extensive historic flow of water from the ditch into the reserve would affect them.
Drumright said the reason for proposing the pipeline project in the first place was to prevent losing water.
“Our desire was to put a pipeline in because it is the old Tule River bottom and it is pure sand and through that 2,660 feet, we’d lose about 13 percent of the overall ditch flow, 13 percent of the water that goes down there,” Drumright said. “So by putting in a pipeline, we would be able to designate that water to downstream users via either farmers or shareholders of Campbell-Moreland Ditch to be able to use that more productively.”
Nevertheless, Drumright said he believes the Vandalia Water District will attempt to get the project going again in the future.
“We had so much opposition and have spent so much money on this already that we just finally said just pull the plug on it until a later date,” Drumright said.
McMillan said even though things aren’t working out right now with regard to the pipeline project, he is hopeful about the future.
“Although the environmental community put pressure on the Vandalia Water District to the point that they decided not to build a pipeline, there’s still things that we can work on together with this agricultural community to help them meet some of the tough regulations that they have to deal with in their line of work,” McMillan said.
Whatever ends up happening, McMillan said he just wants Yaudanchi to be intact.
“There are some great things about this little site,” McMillan said about Yaudanchi. “It’s got a great history and there’s great potential for it to be one of those centerpieces of an urban area. It could be the Central Park of Porterville one day.”
Who closed Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve?
Campbell Moreland Ditch running through Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve. Courtesy/Bobby Kamansky/Kamansky Ecological Consulting
In a bucolic little corner on the south eastern edge of Porterville exists a piece of Tule River floodplain that has never felt the till of a plow or the heard the hammering of a nail.
The place is the Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve (YER.)
The reserve is an outdoor classroom for the Porterville public school system and a recreational area for the community.
The 164 acres got their official designation as an ecological reserve in 1975 and was named in honor of a branch of the Yokut tribe that lived in Northern Tulare County.
The state owns the land and the reserve was well managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife to the satisfaction of all.
So why was Yaudanchi closed?
Gates were locked and signs removed
Laurie Schwaller, a founding member of Friends of the Yaudanchi, was the first to notice there was something amiss. While responding to a Monache High School student’s request to use the reserve for research, Schwaller noticed that the YER had been removed from the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (DFW) list of ecological reserves.
The mysterious knot began to unravel when she discovered that the Porterville Development Center (PDC,) a state hospital for the disabled, closed the reserve in October of 2017. The state has owned the property since 1945 and built the PDC on the southern end, leaving the northern section that would become the YER untouched.
When Schwaller asked Theresa Billeci, assistant to the Executive Director of PDC, why the reserve was closed she was told “because of a pipeline.”
Schwaller then discovered that Vandalia Water District (VWD) decided to replace the earthen ditch that runs the length of YER with a metal pipe. The pipeline was to be 42″ and 2,602 feet long and would almost completely block the reserve’s access to water.
The reason for piping the ditch was that farmers were losing too much irrigation water to seepage.
According to a statement given to the Porterville Recorder by Steve Drumright, the general manager for Vandalia Water District, “Our desire was to put a pipeline in because it is the old Tule River bottom and it is pure sand and through that 2,660 feet, we’d lose about 13 percent of the overall ditch flow….”
In 1860 the Campbell Moreland Ditch Company dug that ditch and for 159 years the water running through it sustained a Tule River wetlands and natural wildlife habitat that became the lifeblood of the Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve.
The Campbell Moreland Ditch, which is run by VWD, runs from the Tule River to sinking basins and farms south of Porterville.
Once the construction of a pipeline and loss of water seemed inevitable PDC closed the reserve. As a result, the Department of Fish and Wildlife withdrew from their agreement to manage YER, removing all signs, discontinuing all maintenance, and locked up the parking lot.
Friends of the Yaudanchi take action
Learning of the public hearing about building the pipeline with only days to spare, the Friends of Yaudanchi quickly organized a response and presented it to the directors of the VWD and Campbell Moreland Ditch Company.
VWD’s goal was to build the pipeline and avoid the cumbersome and expensive process of doing a complete Environmental Impact Review (EIR). Their Initial Study, completed by 4 Creeks Inc., concluded that the project would not make a major environmental impact, thus an EIR would not be necessary.
But a public hearing is required to give the community an opportunity to respond to the Initial Study before any project on public lands can go forward.
During the public hearing VWD was told that the project would make a major environmental impact and thus they were required to do an EIR. The Sierra Club, Audubon Society, Wildplaces, and the California Native Plant Society claimed that the pipeline would cause irreversible harm.
“The destruction caused by the removal of water from a riparian and upland habitat and the species that depend on that habitat is irrevocable,” Richard Garcia representing the Sierra Club wrote.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife said it “cannot support the(Vandalia Water) District’s support of the project.”
The DFW said the pipeline will, “constitute the project-related loss of wetlands and the Site, the loss of riparian habitat and function, and the potential loss of the mature VELB (Valley Elderberry Long Horned Beetle) occupied blue elderberry bush…Absent sufficient flow from the Ditch, the Department has determined that wetland and riparian habitat values on the YER cannot be mitigated sufficiently to be less than significant and that wildlife that depends on these resource values will be severely compromised and impacted.”
In addition, YER was used by the California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) to mitigate habitat lost during their project’s construction. CALTRANS used the YER to plant elderberry bushes to replace those they destroyed. The elderberry bushes are the main habitat for the endangered long horned beetle.
The VWD was possibly faced with mitigating the CALTRANS mitigation if they pursued the pipeline.
VWD’s own report said there would be a major environmental impact.
The Initial Study’s biological report commissioned by VWD said, “The Project would essentially remove the majority of the hydrology for the Ditch. However, drainage does occur from adjacent sites. Thus, piping the Ditch would not remove the hydrology entirely. The Ditch would remain open and the pipeline would be sited away from the Ditch and associated wetland and other sensitive habitat.
Pipeline not worth the hassle
Drumright told the Porterville Recorder in July of 2018, “At our last regular Vandalia Board Meeting, we just decided that we would put the project on hold due to the opposition from the environmental community,”
He still maintained that the project would have no environmental impact on the reserve.
Now that the water supply for the reserve had been saved, the Friends of the Yuadanchi wanted to get the recreational area back open to the public, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride.
“In July, we began contacting PDC again, requesting to meet with decision-makers to discuss re-opening and properly managing YER again, now that the pipeline was off the table,” said Schwaller.
It took six months, but on January 4 of this year the Friends of the Yaudanchi secured a meeting with Norm Kramer, of the Director of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS,) PDC’s parent company out of Sacramento.
Attending the meeting were the executives from DDS and PDC, the groups that opposed the pipeline at the VWD Public Hearing, representatives from the Tule River Tribe Council and Porterville Unified School District.
Kramer made clear at their meeting that “he can’t imagine anyone in DDS wanting to do anything with that land.” According to Schwaller he said “We (DDS/PDC) don’t do land. We do patients”
“We would love to see the land used as it has been, but can’t give resources from PDC to do it.”
Kramer emphasized that the Friends of the Yaudanchi would have to do the maintenance, ensure the safety of the public, get their own insurance, and indemnify the state of any liability.
“Put forth a viable option to take PDC off the hook. Make it something good for the community to use,” Schwaller said was Kramer’s suggestion.
On January 28 PDC unlocked the gates and let the Friends of the Yaudanuchi and members of the Tule River Tribe take a tour of the reserve. Though the recreation areas were all grown over and the pond was empty the group was hopeful that it wouldn’t take much funding to bring it back to what it was.
The goal of the group is the removal of invasive plants, refill the pond, maintain the trails, repair the gazebo, restore the signage, open the parking lot and bring back the porta-potties.
From discussion during the tour with Frank Chandler, Chief of Plant Operations for PDC, YER is going to set up tour dates in the spring and possibly create a special use permit between PDC and YER for access to the reserve.
During the meeting with Kramer on January 4 Schwaller asked, “Would DDS/PDC consider turning the YER land over to another agency?”
She reported that Kramer said, “We would be glad to turn it over. Let’s make a deal locally.”
For more information how you can help save the Yaudanchi Ecological Reserve contact: Richard J. Garcia firstname.lastname@example.org To learn more visit Tulare County Treasures at http://www.tularecountytreasures.org/yaudanchi-ecological-reserve.html