Our Mission

Our mission is to link water, science and people for the benefit of human and environmental health.

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About Us

Sierra Streams Institute is a regional watershed science organization based in Nevada City, California, dedicated to increasing watershed stewardship capacity throughout the Sierra Nevada region and beyond. Although much of our work takes place in the watershed of Deer Creek—a major tributary of the Yuba River, which drains to the Feather River, the Sacramento River, and ultimately the San Francisco Bay—SSI is proud to be a vitally important voice in the regional scientific community. We work with local, state, and federal agencies as well as universities and community groups to find solutions to the problems that afflict Deer Creek and other watersheds throughout the region that share the challenges resulting from a century and a half of gold mining, development, and agriculture. SSI's emphasis on rigorous science and consistent data collection provides the basis for restoration decisions that are made on behalf of Deer Creek and other Sierra streams, and makes us an especially valuable partner of local and state government agencies who lack the funding and capacity to gather their own data.

From experience we have learned that in addition to conducting research, it is imperative to impart an understanding of the issues we are studying to the public and to work closely with local government entities to solve local problems. This is essential in order to enable the public to contribute an educated guiding voice to the governing process. As an organization we have chosen to accomplish this task through education and involvement rather than political means.

In 1995, a group of citizens living in the Deer Creek watershed became volunteer monitors for the city of Nevada City during the demolition and reconstruction of the Pine Street bridge. Seeing the need for continuing water quality monitoring and restoration beyond the life of the construction project, these citizen-monitors organized themselves as Friends of Deer Creek. In 1999-2000 the group filed for and received its non-profit corporation status.

In 2000, Friends of Deer Creek received a state grant of $195,000 to initiate baseline water quality monitoring, restore Little Deer Creek in Pioneer Park, perform a Disturbance Inventory, and develop a Coordinated Resource Management Plan (CRMP). This grant funding allowed us to hire our first paid staff member, biologist and executive director Joanne Hild. In 2003 the grant was extended for a year with an additional $60,000, to assist in the development of a laboratory to study bacteria, algae, macroinvertebrates, and nutrients.  Friends of Deer Creek became one of a handful of non-profit organizations nationwide to develop a citizen-based macroinvertebrate monitoring program.

With further grant funding from a wide range of state, federal, and private funders, Friends of Deer Creek expanded its capacity to include salmon habitat restoration, trail development, heavy metal study and remediation, riparian revegetation, education, and a comprehensive monitoring and assessment program throughout the watershed. We created a macroinvertebrate identification manual that is in use nationwide, and completed a watershed-wide restoration plan.

The success of our citizen-based scientific monitoring and restoration program, with its ten years of rigorous data collection and numerous completed projects, led to the decision to reorganize as Sierra Streams Institute in order to expand regional capacity. With a new mission to assist other groups engaged in similar work, we moved in August 2010 to a larger facility that includes a classroom and expanded laboratory. We now offer trainings, education, and laboratory services to individuals, groups, and agencies.

Pine Street Bridge

Where it all began: The Pine Street bridge as seen from the creek.

Sierra Streams Institute's strength lies in its ability to attract and retain highly skilled staff members, led by Executive Director Joanne Hild. Joanne came to the organization in 2000 as staff biologist with 20 years of college teaching experience and extensive experience working on local environmental issues. Since 2007, Sierra Streams Institute has also employed AmeriCorps service members through the Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership (SNAP), a highly competitive program that places AmeriCorps members at different conservation agencies and organizations throughout the Sierra Nevada to conduct watershed restoration and monitoring, watershed education, and volunteer recruitment and support.

Current staff members are listed below. Click a name to see a biographical sketch of that person.

  • Joanne Hild
    Executive Director, Biologist
    joanne[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Katy Janes
    Geomorphologist, Watershed Coordinator
    katy[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Kelly Hickman
    Education Program Director
    kelly[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Harlow Rothert
    Water Quality Monitoring Coordinator
    harlow[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Sheli Meylor
    Biologist, Macroinvertebrate Laboratory Manager
    sheli[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Kristen Hein Strohm
    Wildlife Biologist, Project Manager
    kristen[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Jennifer Langdon
    Development and Communications Director
    jennifer[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Chloe Tremper
    River Scientist, Education Coordinator, Americorps Member
    chloe[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Lisa Frankel
    Finance Director
    lisa[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Justin Wood
    River Scientist, Project Manager
    justin[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Kyle Leach
    Senior Geologist, Project Manager
    kyle[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • John van der Veen
    Chemist
    john[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Denise Della Santina
    Conservation Ecologist, Project Manager
    denise[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Sol Henson
    Education Program Director
    sol[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Karin Emanuelson
    River Scientist, Americorps Member
    karin[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org
  • Mo Loden
    Water Quality Lab Manager
    mo[at]sierrastreamsinstitute.org

Click a name to see a biographical sketch of that person.

A key to Sierra Streams Institute's success in accomplishing its mission has been the involvement of a significant group of loyal volunteers who have worked extensively in the field, the office, and the lab. Many of our volunteers are motivated to participate because they see first-hand the benefits of water quality monitoring and restoration. Creekside landowners see the positive effects of restoration activities in the creek itself in their backyards. Residents of Nevada City have seen the improvements to Pioneer Park, a creekside park in town, and now are also benefiting from the trails being built along the creek. Improved habitat for birds and fish is less obvious but appreciated by the typically outdoors-oriented population of western Nevada County. Sierra Streams Institute is recognized as a model of how individual citizens can come together under the guidance of expert staff to use science to protect the environment.

Volunteers

Volunteer team after a Spotted Owl survey near Stocking Flat. Photo by Justin Wood.

Since its beginning, Sierra Streams Institute has focused on collaborating with other organizations and government agencies. The organization arose, in fact, out of a partnership with the City of Nevada City in which Friends of Deer Creek worked to monitor and prevent impacts to the creek during the rebuilding of the Pine Street bridge downtown. Other collaborations with the city have included the use of monitoring data to guide management practices of the city's wastewater treatment plant on Deer Creek, and a successful community-wide assessment of abandoned mine sites on city land. More recently we have begun working with the State of California setting up a series of trainings and have partnered with the Regional Board on a mercury study and two bacteria studies. The findings of the bacteria studies resulted in a further collaboration with the Nevada County Environmental Health Department, using our data to guide public health warnings of E. coli contamination in the creek. Locally we are working on a gravel augmentation project, a collaboration with Lake Wildwood and the Regional Board, to enhance fish habitat at the mouth of Deer Creek. We have also worked hard over the course of the last decade to develop a collaborative relationship with the Lake Wildwood Association, managers of a gated recreational dam and reservoir on Deer Creek.

These are just some of our more important collaborative relationships. We work or partner with a number of other organizations, most of which are listed below. The list is ordered alphabetically.

American Rivers

American Rivers protects and restores America's rivers for the benefit of people, wildlife, and nature. American Rivers is a partner organization with Sierra Streams on several projects including the Deer Creek Tribute Trail and Restoration Project and the Deer Creek Floodplain Restoration Project. American Rivers also administers the Sierra Water Trust project, through which we have received funding for our stream flow monitoring project.

California Department of Conservation

The Department of Conservation provides services and information that promote environmental health, economic vitality, informed land-use decisions and sound management of our state's natural resources. The Department of Conservation distributes funds allocated by Proposition 50 (the Water Security, Clean Drinking Water, Coastal and Beach Protection Act of 2002) for the Watershed Coordinator Grant Program, which supports the Watershed Coordinator position at Sierra Streams Institute.

California State University Sacramento

Part of the California State University system, CSU Sacramento offers undergraduate and graduate programs to 29,000 students at its 300-acre campus. Sierra Streams consults with Sacramento State faculty on the salmon habitat restoration project and provides both internship opportunities and macroinvertebrate monitoring instruction to CSU Sacramento students.

Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board

The mission of the RWQCB is to preserve, enhance, and restore the quality of California's water resources, and ensure their proper allocation and efficient use for the benefit of present and future generations. The RWQCB has collaborated with Sierra Streams Institute on a variety of projects, including training our staff on mercury sampling protocols, providing funding for storm sampling, and sampling for bacterial pathogens during two studies at a local swimming hole.

Five Star Restoration Challenge (U.S. EPA & National Fish and Wildlife Foundation)

The Five Star Restoration Program of the federal Environmental Protection Agency provides modest financial assistance on a competitive basis to support community-based wetland, riparian, and coastal habitat restoration projects that build diverse partnerships and foster local natural resource stewardship through education, outreach and training activities. With funding from the Five Star Restoration Challenge, Sierra Streams developed an environmental education program for Forest Charter School aimed at expanding upon traditional curricula in the areas of ecology, mining history, Native American culture and history, and restoration ecology. Students are able to use their knowledge in a field setting while doing restoration work.

Forest Charter School

Forest Charter School is a K-12 Personalized Learning Charter School serving Nevada, Placer, Sierra, and Yuba counties. Forest is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). Forest Charter School tailors a personalized educational program for each student by utilizing a menu of resources including block classes, co-ops, independent study, community, and family-centered educational programs. Sierra Streams has partnered with Forest Charter High School since 2009 to provide restoration ecology education that includes field experience and classroom instruction.

Greater Champion Neighborhood Association

GCNA is a member of the Federation of Neighborhood Associations and represents the Nevada City neighborhood of Champion Road, Old Downieville Highway, Newtown Road, and the many streets and lanes in between. GCNA collaborates with Sierra Streams on issues of mutual concern, including the Tribute Trail, which runs through the GCNA neighborhood.

Lake Wildwood Association

Lake Wildwood is a reservoir on Deer Creek surrounded by a gated community with a population of more than 5000. The Lake Wildwood Association and Sierra Streams partner on several projects, focusing on Deer Creek and Lake Wildwood Reservoir. This includes monitoring reservoir drawdown releases, sampling stream flows through the reservoir during storm events, and testing fish from the reservoir for mercury.

Nevada County Environmental Health Department

The Nevada County Department of Environmental Health is the local implementing agency for a diverse range of state and local laws affecting the public health of the citizens and visitors of Nevada County. Sierra Streams and the Nevada County Environmental Health Deptartment collaborate to conduct sampling and public outreach concerning the bacteria contamination at Western Gateway Park in Penn Valley, CA.

Nisenan Tribe

The Foothill Nisenan of the Nevada City Rancheria are the indigenous people of the watersheds of the Yuba and Bear rivers and their many tributaries, including Deer Creek. For thousands of years, these American Indians thrived throughout these watersheds. Today, descendants of these same, historic Nisenan families seek to engage in conversation with the community about the history and culture of their people. Sierra Streams is pleased to partner with the tribe in our restoration efforts.

Patagonia

Patagonia, through its Environmental Grants Program, has provided funding to Sierra Streams for two pilot restoration projects, the Stocking Flat Pilot Restoration Project and the Deer Creek Ephemeral Stream Assessment and Restoration Project. The Stocking Flat Project was a hands-on pilot restoration study investigating the claim that native species, such as Arroyo Willow and California Wild Grape, can outcompete non-native Himalayan Blackberry. The project involved the help of students from Forest Charter High School. Patagonia has also provided Friends of Deer Creek with donations including field clothing and gear.

Rose Foundation

The Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment is a grantmaking public charity, which raises funds from donations, grants from other foundations, legal restitution payments, and cy-près funds. The Rose Foundation has provided funding to Sierra Streams for a phytoremediation pilot project, which uses plants to extract heavy metal contaminants from abandoned mine sites.

Sierra Fund

The Sierra Fund is a non-profit community foundation providing philanthropic stewardship and charitable support services to support environmental conservation in the Sierra Nevada region. The Sierra Fund serves as a fiscal agent and collaborator on multiple Sierra Streams Institute projects, including the Deer Creek Restoration Plan.

Sierra Nevada Conservancy

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy initiates, encourages, and supports efforts that improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region, its communities and the citizens of California. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy provides funding for the following Sierra Streams Institute projects: Mercury Bioavailability and Transport in Deer Creek over Lake Wildwood Reservoir, Sierra Nevada Science Institute--Development of a Timeline and Business Plan, and the Deer Creek Restoration Plan.

University of California, Davis

Researchers from Peter Moyle's Fish Lab collaborate with Friends of Deer Creek to conduct annual electro-fishing at Sierra Streams Institute monitoring sites in Squirrel Creek, Deer Creek, Little Deer Creek, and Gold Run Creek.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency is to protect human health and the environment. Sierra Streams Institute receives funding through the USEPA Brownfields program to perform site assessments on contaminated mining lands on city of Nevada City properties. The USEPA contributed funding to the development of the Bug Book, a macroinvertebrate identification manual.

Wolf Creek Community Alliance

Wolf Creek Community Alliance (WCCA), a volunteer-run 501c3 non-profit organization, exists to protect, enhance, and restore Wolf Creek, its tributaries and watershed. SSI collaborates with WCCA in its efforts to carry out its mission.

Aquatic Biological Assessment Lab

The mission of the Aquatic Biological Assessment Lab (ABL) and is to support the use of biology in California's water quality management and assessment programs. SSI Executive Director Joanne Hild attends ABL's yearly workgroup meetings to learn about updated protocols and research in macroinvertebrates and other biological health indicators. She has also given presentations about our findings.

Bear Yuba Land Trust

The Bear Yuba Land Trust is a non-profit organization dedicated to land conservation and stewardship. Sierra Streams partnered with Bear Yuba Land Trust to develop the Deer Creek Tribute Trail, and we continue to work closely with the Land Trust on easement acquisition, conservation, and restoration projects.

Bella Vista Foundation

The Bella Vista Foundation's Ecosystem Restoration program focuses on protecting, restoring, and revitalizing high-priority watershed ecosystems in California and Oregon. Within these key watersheds, the Foundation's priorities are promoting the sustainable management of forest and agricultural land, revitalizing streams, restoring riparian areas, and protecting biodiversity, with the goal of enhancing and maintaining self-sustaining watershed ecosystems. Bella Vista Foundation has provided funding for revegetation and permitting as part of the Deer Creek Salmon and Steelhead Habitat Restoration Project.

California Native Plant Society

The California Native Plant Society (CNPS) is a statewide non-profit organization of amateurs and professionals with a common interest in California's native plants. Our nearly 10,000 members work to promote native plant appreciation, research, education, and conservation through our five statewide programs and 33 regional chapters in California. CNPS is an important resource for Sierra Streams' native plant restoration efforts. Sierra Streams also works with CNPS on educational projects that encourage young people to develop their observation skill in nature by creating field guides.

The California Wellness Foundation

The mission of The California Wellness Foundation is to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention. The California Wellness Foundation provides funding to Sierra Streams Institute for core operating support of our work in the fields of bacterial and heavy metal study and remediation.

City of Nevada City

The City of Nevada City is dedicated to preserving and enhancing its small-town character and historical architecture while providing public services for our current and future residents, businesses and visitors. Nevada City and Sierra Streams Institute partner on a variety of projects, including storm drain installation, the Deer Creek Tribute Trail and Restoration Project, fuels reduction in the Environs area, habitat restoration on Little Deer Creek in Pioneer Park, and EPA Brownfields-funded assessments of contaminated mine lands.

Gold Country Fly Fishers

Gold Country Fly Fishers promotes fly fishing for the recreation of members, promotes and supports conservation of our water and fisheries resources, with particular emphasis on the "Catch and Release" ethic, trains members in the techniques of fly fishing, publicizes and promotes fly fishing, fly casting, fly-tying, and other related activities, and represents organized fly fishers by maintaining liaison with sports and conservation organizations and with regulatory agencies. Sierra Streams and the GCFF collaborate on sampling fish populations, non-native invasive species removal, and native plant and habitat restoration in the Deer Creek watershed.

Nevada County Planning Department

The mission of the Nevada County Planning Department is to develop and apply land use policies and standards in ways that protect environmental resources, while promoting economic vitality. Sierra Streams Institute partners with Nevada County on the Deer Creek Tribute Trail and Restoration Project.

Nevada County Sanitation District #1

The Nevada County Sanitation District administers and maintains sewage collection systems and treatment facilities in Nevada County. There are ten zones within the Sanitation District with facilities that collect and treat 1,245,000 gallons of wastewater each day. Sierra Streams and the Nevada County Sanitation District #1 are partners on a Gravel Augmentation and Habitat Restoration project in lower Deer Creek, below Lake Wildwood Reservoir.

Nevada Irrigation District

NID is a diversified water resource agency that supplies nearly 25,000 homes, farms, and businesses in Nevada and Placer counties. NID partners with Sierra Streams on the Tribute Trail, part of which follows the Newtown Ditch, an NID canal that runs parallel to Deer Creek. NID also shares data with us and participates in our monthly water quality monitoring program.

North Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition

NTEEC is a coalition of Environmental Education Providers serving the public and school children of the North Tahoe and Truckee region. Collaborating members of NTEEC offer a wide range of science, outdoor education, and environmental literacy programs for students of the North Tahoe and Truckee Region to enhance existing curriculum and engage students in these subjects.

Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund

The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund provides resources and leadership for creative, risk-taking philanthropy. The Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund generously donated the funding for Sierra Streams Institute to purchase a mercury analyzer. The mercury analyzer has greatly increased our capacity for mercury sampling and analysis in soil, water, and living tissue samples.

Sierra College

Sierra Streams has teamed up with Sierra College, the local community college with a campus in Grass Valley, to provide internship opportunities in a variety of disciplines, including chemistry, biology, restoration ecology, and GIS mapping. Sierra College hosts the twice-yearly intercalibration session conducted by Sierra Streams to ensure adherence to monitoring protocols and check the consistency of our equipment.

Sierra Nevada Alliance

The Sierra Nevada Alliance's mission is to protect and restore the natural environment of the Sierra Nevada for future generations while ensuring healthy and sustainable communities. They do this by strengthening the work of people and organizations committed to the environmental integrity of the Sierra Nevada. The Alliance administers the Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership, through which Friends of Deer Creek has hosted two AmeriCorps members each year since 2007.

South Yuba River Citizens League

SYRCL is a community non-profit dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Yuba River and the greater Yuba watershed. Sierra Streams collaborates with SYRCL in a variety of ways within our shared watershed, coordinating our monitoring efforts, serving together on a technical advisory committee that oversees data collection and analysis, and engaging in efforts to restore salmon and steelhead habitat in the confluence reach of Deer Creek and the Yuba River.

State Water Resources Control Board

The mission of the SWRCB is to preserve, enhance, and restore the quality of California’s water resources, and ensure their proper allocation and efficient use for the benefit of present and future generations. The SWRCB has provided funding to Sierra Streams Institute through Proposition 13 and 204 Grants and collaborated with us on the 303d listing for Lower Deer Creek as an impaired watershed.