Visiting Sierra Nevada in Fall (1): Source of Our Water

On an October morning, we went to the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park.  It was a very clear and nice fall morning.  On high way 99, you could see the irrigation ditch running parallel to the free way.  Though tiny from afar, the blue color of the water contrasted briskly with the yellow banks along it and mountains behind it.  Sierra Nevada and its snowpack, is the source for the water, which we will see very soon.


South Fork, Kings River

After we watched in awe the giant Sequioas the first day, we went to the Kings Canyon National Park the next day.  When driving on the road into the park, one could see water running in the canyon to the right of the road, in the yellow and golden fall foliage.  The views were spectacular.

This is the South Fork of the Kings River, one of the three forks that form the river (the other two are Middle and North Fork).

We stopped at Ceder Grove Visitor Center, which  just closed for the winter season.  A short distance away is the river bank of the King river.  The water was so clear, like liquid crystal, moved slowly from east to west.

Kings River 4

Where does all this water come from?  Snowpack in Sierra Nevada, a mountain of which can be seen in the picture above at the back.  However, there was no snow patch visible now.

Every year, during the cold winter season, snows falls on the Sierra Nevada, which means “snowy range” in Spanish.  The whole mountain range captures and stores the vast amount of snow, then at spring time, the snowpack begins to melt and fills rivers with water, like the South Fork of Kings river here.  The snowmelt peaks late spring around March to April, then declines through summer and fall, until it reaches the bottom around September.  So we were at about what was supposed to be the very low point of snowmelt.  The water level should be about the lowest now; usually we might not see all these rocks at the riverbed.

Kings River 5

From here, the water in South Fork flows down Kings Canyon, then join other forks at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to become the one big Kings River.  Later the Kings River divides into three distributaries, with North Fork Distributary connecting to the Fresno Slough that drains into the San Joaquin River.  San Joaquin River merges with the Sacramento River in Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta), from which the State Water Project and Central Valley Project deliver the water to many parts of the state, including the Bay area, Central Valley, Los Angles and Los Angeles Basin.  So, when we turn on the tap back in the bay area, the water that comes out may be from the water we see here!

San Joaquin River
By Shannon1 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Water Fountain
Water fountain in the Bay area

We continued on.  When we passed the bridge for Roaring River, we decided to go take a small hike.  Roaring river is a tributary for the South Fork;  At the end of the trail, you could see a water fall, tumbling down one after another (the upper one could not be seen in the photo unfortunately).  The water is jade green at the bottom of the fall.  More than 100 years ago, when John Muir saw this water fall, he marveled: “There is one thundering plunge into a dark pool beneath a glorious mass of rainbow spray…”

Roaring River

After the double falls,  the water tumbles down yet another step, then flows to this little pool surrounded by mountains and fall foliage, a stunning beauty in green tranquility.  From here, it merges into the South Fork.

Roaring River

Roaring River 3

We came back to the main road along the South Fork, and went upstream.  Along the way, every view with the river was captivating.

Kings River

Sierra Nevada Snowpack: Critical Source of the Water

All this water comes from snowmelt of the Sierra Nevada, which is so critical for California’s water supply.  As Sierra Nevada Conservancy indicates,  “The Sierra Nevada Region plays a critical role in California’s water supply and hydrological system. More than 60 percent of California’s developed water supply originates in the Sierra Nevada serving end users throughout the State.  Snowpack in the Sierra region provides a natural form of water storage, and Sierra forests and meadows play a role in ensuring water quality and reliability.”

Sierra Nevada Smowpack

By storing the water as snow in winter, and gradually releasing it in warmer seasons, the snowpack in Serra Nevada acts as a gigantic natural reservoir for the state.  According to The Southwest Climate Science Center,  “In California, the spring snowpack on average stores about 70% as much as the water stored in the State’s reservoirs.”

That’s amazing.  The water that flows by in front of us is not just this incredible natural beauty; along with the surrounding mountains, the snowpack there invisible to our eyes, they are part of this huge water storage and delivery system, supporting “more than 25 million Californians and three million acres of agricultural land.”, as indicated by Sierra Nevada Conservancy.  People like us who live in the cities, big and small, depend on it; the state’s agriculture business, at 45 billion in 2016, depend on it.

Challenges for the Snowpack

Such a critical resource, unfortunately, is under some very serious challenges.

The impact from climate change is significant.  According to a study by UCLA Center for Climate Science:

  • “By 2081–2100, if nothing is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions, average temperatures in the Sierra Nevada are projected to increase by about 7–10 degrees F, depending on the month in question, compared with 1981–2000.
  • Warming will be associated with decreases in snow cover in the Sierra Nevada by 2081–2100. For the typical month of April, the land area covered by snow shrinks by 48%, compared with the typical April in 1981–2000. “

In another study published in the peer-review journal Nature in 2017, “Westen U.S. Snowpack could decline 60% by 2040“, with a decline of 30% “very likely”.

  • Reduced snowmelt runoff.  Smaller snowpack means less snowmelt.  This is already happening.  Water Education Foundation indicates that “In the past 100 years, annual runoff that occurs during April to July has decreased by 23 percent for the Sacramento basin and 19 percent for the San Joaquin basin, according to state climate statistics.”  As more than 60 percent of the state’s water supply comes from Sierra Nevada, the reduced runoff is a very serious challenge.
  • Snowline is moving uphill.   Scientists at the Desert Research Institute in a study published in journal Water reported that warmer temperatures have pushed the snow line in the northern Sierra Nevada uphill by 1,200 to 1,500 feet.
  • There will be less snow and more rain.  As the snowline moves up, in the big areas that used to receive snow, now will only receive rainfall.  Snowpack is like a reservoir that releases water gradually throughout the whole year; Rain, on the other hand, will just flow away instantly as runoff.  If we can’t capture and store all the runoff, we will lose a big chunk of water we have today.
  • Runoff timing moves earlier.  For the Sacramento River, compared to 50 years ago, the peak snowmelt time has moved earlier by a whole month, from early April to early March.  Here is the chart showing the changes in peak snowmelt runoff.  When snowmelt peaks early, reservoirs are forced to release water earlier too, which means less water for later when water is needed the most – summer and fall.   If the snow is gone before the reservoirs can recharge, then communities that depend on that stored water will face very tough situations.

Snowmelt Peak

Credit: California Department of Water Resources

  • More wild fires.  Higher temperatures bring more wild fires. The loss of such a big number of trees deteriorates the eco system, reduces the nature’s capacity to store water, further worsening the water supply situation.  As there will be no trees to slow down the runoff, the possibility and hazard of flooding will also greatly increase.
Value Every Drop

On our way home, we crossed the bridge of Kings River.  Looking out of the window, one can see fields after fields of corps, all the way to the horizon.  When one took a glimpse at the water in an irrigation ditch, it was clear, blue, and calm as a mirror, a contrast to the water we just saw in the Kings Canyon.

Kings River

Irrigation Ditch

After it flows out of Kings Canyon, the Kings River comes here and irrigates this vast expanse of land, and beyond.  It has been like that for many years, and it’s natural to think it will continue for many more years.  However, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack will “very likely” reduce by 30% in the next 20 years, the water we see today might not be there tomorrow.

A city completely without water is not just a remote possibility any more, it is happening.  Cape Town, the second largest city in South Africa,  is projected to run into “Day Zero“, when running water will be completely cuts off from the city, in May.

As the natural water supply will only decrease, every drop of the water should be valued.  By improving water use efficiency, Pacific Institute’s indicated in a report that we can save 1 million acre water a year.  Out of all the methods to come up with more water, “improving the efficiency of our water use is the cheapest, easiest, fastest, and least destructive way to meet California’s current and future water supply needs.”

In California, outdoor landscaping watering accounts for half of total urban water use .  To replace water-thirsty lawns with water efficient gardens is one of the most effective ways we can save water.  Building such a garden will not only conserve water, but also beautify our space, provide food to the pollinator, and nurture a healthy eco system.

By putting every drop into the best use,  not only will we have the water we need, we can also best show our gratitude to the nature, and its generous gifts for us for so many years.








Fallen Leaves – A Nuisance or Treasure?

Fall is here – look at that beautiful foliage!


Leaves 2

While we love to appreciate the wonderful colors of the fall foliage, the one thing that often accompany it – the fallen leaves, is another story. “What a nuisance!” – we might think.  With the thought we might just pick up the rake and bloom, sweep them together, pile them up, then dump them away as garbage. We have been doing this for so long we never thought second time about it.

But is this right?

Actually, the best place for those leaves to go is not garbage, but where they fall on – the earth, or soil, to be more precise.  This is what nature has been doing for millions of years.  It is the nature’s way of keeping everything alive and well.

Learn from nature

If we go to a forest, when we set our sight on its floor, we might see a thick layer of leaves, accumulated over many years.  Nobody cleans them away; the leaves just keep falling and sitting on the older leaves, year after year.  Over the time, those leaves at the bottom will be absorbed into the soil.

Fallen leaves are an excellent source of organic matter for the soil.  With the help of all the living things in the soil, including macro (worms etc.) and micro organisms (bacteria, etc.) in the soil, they will be broken down and transformed into nutrients for the plants.  The soil with the abundance of such nutrients is called black gold.  These kind of soil is:

  • very fertile and great for plants growth.  They are full of the nutrients, moisture, minerals and other matters that plants need for their growth; plants grow faster, taller and healthier with such soil;
  • holds more water.  this kind of soil is a great environment for all kinds of macro and micro organisms.  They improve the soil structure and make the soil like a sponge with many tiny holes.  This kind of soil can retain a large amount of water, making it more drought resistant.  If we have such soil in our garden, watering can be reduced by quite a bit.

In California, where drought is a constant threat, while all kinds of solutions are being explored, healthy soil, with its water holding capacity and implication for water usage reduction, can be an important part of the overall solutions.

  • can absorb more carbon.  In addition to water, soil also holds air, with a big part of that is carbon.  Plants take in carbon dioxide and water, and transform into sugars and oxygen in the photosynthesis function.

Healthy soil can also hold more carbon.  As we are facing the  climate change, which the carbon dioxide is the culprit, it turns out, soil can also play an important role for fighting climate change.   According to Nature Conservancy, “Healthy soils can help reduce the impact of climate change by storing (or sequestering) up to 10 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. But, if soils are managed poorly or cultivated through unsustainable agricultural practices, soil carbon can be released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, which can contribute to climate change.”

From the above, we can see how important healthy soil is for us, and fallen leaves can be one of the keys to achieving it!  Fallen leaves is something that healthy soil needs and badly craves.  In stead of dumping the leaves away, we can try following.

Use fallen leaves the right way

These are the great ways to use the fallen leaves in your home:

  • Mulch your yard with leaves.  This can provide two benefits at the same time: give soil the organic matter, and suppress the growth of weeds.  No need to shred the leaves – they can be worked into the soil fine.  If you prefer, you can shred them before mulching.

fallen leaves

  • Compost.  Leaves are an excellent source of compost materials.  Put them into a compost bin, add food scraps and others (water, etc) with the right ratio, and let the compost process begin.  After about two months, you can get good compost soil that you can apply to the plants.
  • Put them in a yard waste bin.  If your city has a yard waste collection program, put them in the specific bin.  The leaves in the bin will be sent to a compost facility instead of  a landfill.  This way you can help avoid the pollution in a landfill, and turned them into compost – something good for us.
  • Avoid using the leaf blower.  They make noise and carbon dioxide, something we don’t need more of!  If the leaves can’t be left on where they are (remember they make excellent mulch and contribute to great soil) and must be collected, just use a rake or bloom.  Enjoy the foliage while you rake.


















Run for Water – My Journey to the New York Marathon

The New York Marathon finished last Sunday on Nov 5, 2017.  While several days have passed, the excitement of seeing so many runners, the cheering crowd, and crossing the finish line in one of the most iconic races in the world is still so fresh on the mind.  It has been such an extraordinary experience.


Determined to Run

Though I have run marathons a couple times before, I have never run a New York Marathon. In the last 2 years, I registered for the lottery, but never won.  This year, with the high hope that “3 is the charm”, I was very sure that I would be able to make it. But the email came yet again telling me otherwise.

Hugely disappointed, I started to consider the only option, which I never looked at before – fundraising for charity. When I scrolled down the long list of organizations, came upon “Water for People”, and read through its description, right then I knew – this is it, I will fundraise to run my New York Marathon, and I will fundraise for Water for People.

Water is something that I have been working on for the last 2 years.  Run for water – there is nothing more fitting to describe my mission for this marathon.

The Drought, and

From 2011-2016, California experienced an epic drought.  At its worst, the water content in California’s snowpack was only 5% the normal level.  Suddenly, everyone realized how valuable the water resource is, and how we must do everything possible to conserve water.


“Achieving a 25 percent reduction in use will require even greater conservation efforts across the state. In particular, many communities must dramatically reduce their outdoor water use;

“In many areas, 50 percent or more of daily water use is for lawns and outdoor landscaping. Outdoor water use is generally discretionary, and many irrigated landscapes will survive while receiving a decreased amount of water;”

To convert a lawn to a water efficient garden is the most effective way to conserve water.   For a lawn of 500 square feet, it can take as much as 4000 gallons of water in a month; if it is replaced with a water efficient garden, 30% to 80% of water can be conserved.  Suppose the original household water usage is 8000 gallons a month, and the garden saves 50% of water, the total water usage will reduce to 6000 gallons, a 25% saving versus the original.

It was during the drought, was created to help more people build water efficient gardens, conserving more water.

Water for People

According to its website, “Water For People is an international nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to creating reliable, safe drinking water resources, improved sanitation facilities, and hygiene education programs in the developing world; it currently operates in 10 countries: Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, India, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Bolivia & Peru. ”

“The organization’s unique business-oriented approach works to establish partnerships between local and national government institutions, nongovernment organizations, private enterprise, and entrepreneurs to enable local communities, districts, and municipalities to plan, build, finance, maintain, and operate their own safe water and sanitation services. Water For People puts long-lasting solutions and 100% coverage of a region with safe water access for everyone at the forefront of its strategy. It fosters innovative solutions to water and sanitation problems that are adaptable worldwide, and through monitoring and evaluation of its program impact for at least 10 years post-implementation, Water For People ensures that its work is sustained by local partners.”

Water for People is rated 4 star  by Charity Navigator, the highest of the ratings.

While the angles to work on the water issue are very different, we both try to address the same root – water.  At Water for People, it aims to create more clean water resources for people; at, we want to help people conserve more water with water efficient landscaping.

Water for People

It is Global

At the New York Marathon opening ceremony, runners from every country walked in a parade, a scene that strongly reminds you of the opening ceremony of Olympics.  Yes, running is truly global today.  In the more than 50000 finishers of the New York Marathon this year, 139 countries were represented.


Water is a critical resource for all human.  The water crisis we may be facing tomorrow is equally global.    United Nations predicts that in 2050, the number of urban dwellers living with seasonal water shortages will reach 1.9 billion, or more than a quarter of the world’s population.  A global issue takes a global effort.  We will need efforts like those of Water for People, and the energy behind the global running phenomenon to tackle the challenges together.

At, we aim to make it easier for people to build water efficient gardens, so more water can be conserved.  As STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BOARD RESOLUTION NO. 2015-0032 indicated: “Water conservation is the easiest, most efficient and most cost-effective way to quickly reduce water demand and extend supplies into the next year, providing flexibility for all California communities. ”  One of the easiest and effective ways is to replace a lawn with water efficient garden.  Not only will it conserve water, but it can provide a beautiful view for the house, and give food to pollinators.

Water Efficient Garden

To solve the water issue globally is not unlike a marathon – it takes effort from everyone, and over a long period of time.  Just like that in a marathon though, when everyone puts their mind, sweat and work into it, the finish line can be reached ultimately.  Run for water – and we will win at the end.