A new study is trying to find out whether the Scott River's low water flows are linked to changes in vegetation.
The Sugar Creek Water Yield Enhancement Study states that the flows "are partially due to an increase in evapotranspiration caused by an increase in the use of water by trees and other vegetation."
The study will look at pre-fire suppression forest density – using 1940s aerial photography and cutting records – and compare it to current conditions.
Weather patterns will also be compared, and the study looks to project water yield changes due to critical habitat designations for species such as the spotted owl.
"We have a balancing effect (when it comes to water)," project coordinator Ray Haupt said. "Most of our precipitation in the winter, lots of drought, hot dry summers and we depend a lot on snowpack.
"All of those things can be directly affected by changes in forest cover, distribution and density on the landscape."
Ray Haupt is a retired Forest Service ranger for the Scott River and forest ecology instructor at College of the Siskiyous. He said the idea for the research came from his time on the watershed council. He said one of the projects never discussed by the council was determining "limiting factors analysis" – that is, assessing all the factors attributing to river flow.
"Before you start any projects to fix something, it's kind of nice to know what the whole picture is," Haupt said. "The 'you don't know why' piece is the one we're studying."
With much research focusing on the consumption end of water, Haupt said he wanted to focus on potential change of "the input to the system," whether positive or negative.
Sugar Creek was chosen for its well-documented, historic flow data, which Haupt said have less "noise" in the system.
Noise is the term Haupt used for the background effects that influence a study but cannot be removed from it – in a sense, what separates nature from the laboratory.
"Nature is messy enough on its own without having a lot of that stuff in it," he added.
The research is currently in its data collection phase. The next phase will be the field work stage, likely starting in late April or early May.
Haupt said the research team is hoping to publish its first public report sometime this month and aims to create an information website next year to keep the public up-to-date.
"If you take a look at research regarding water, there is very little research done in Mediterranean climates, specifically here on the West Coast," Haupt said.
"Are diminished flows in the rivers a direct response of groundwater use or climate change?" Haupt asked. "I want to tease out those things in our physical and biological world that may have changed since the 1930s."
"What somebody does with that information is his or her business."