The vagaries of the Eastern Sierra


It’s no secret that Husband and I own property in the Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, about five miles south of the intersection of highways 108 and 395.  On our property,  cliffs of granite come close to or against the hwy 395 road; this is called the Devil’s Gate, for the muddy grief it gave travelers during the pre-hwy-395 years.  There are springs there. There’s a Spring creek there. Very annoying water, if you’re trying to take a wagon through the Gate in June, and there’s no hwy 395 to help.

Relatively near the gate, there’s an alluvial fan with a creek that runs for a couple of months in the Spring.  We’ve chosen a building spot on the fan, well uphill from the creek, but not so close to the granite wall that it could drop large rocks on us.

Down by hwy 395, there’s a low spot.  It wasn’t there before the construction of hwy 395 in the ’20s — the road builders should have put in a culvert — and we got a county permit to fill it in with the excess excavation material from our home site.  Then someone complained that we were filling in a wetland.

The expert we hired from an independent firm has not yet released her results, but her preliminary finding was that it was probably not a wetland under Federal law, but might well be under California law.

At this point we’re just hoping we don’t have to mitigate the damage already done to the “wetland”.  We have REAL wetlands on our property on the other side of hwy 395, fed by those springs, and we’re as determined as anyone to preserve them.  But this is just a Spring mudhole.

Grunble grumble mutter mutter,

Karen

Comments

  1. One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login says

    So… right about here, one supposes? (give it a second to finish loading) No sign of construction when the google cam car last went through, so can’t be certain which side of 395, but the little man is looking at the source of something called Hot Creek. In such a location, how will you get your water? Drilled well? And I bet there are major rules about siting a septic drain field, right?

  2. F [is for fluvial] says

    I loves me some mistaken, half-assed-backwards pseudoenvironmentalism.

    I’d like to know more about building on an alluvial fan, though.

  3. aspidoscelis says

    Like One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login, I’m also curious about where exactly we’re talking about… and I’m not sure what the distinction between a spring mudhole and a real wetland is. Certainly, in some parts of the country, low spots that are seasonally wet do have a unique assumblage of plants, some of them quite rare, that would be worth protecting. Out around Bridgeport I wouldn’t know. I’ve driven through the area a few times, but not poked around the lower elevations along 395.

  4. Karen Locke says

    One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login is pretty much there. Well done! Except that the building site is about 1000 ft. off the road on the north side, and just out of the picture to the right. The trick was to pick a building site that wasn’t too close to the spring drainage down that fan, wasn’t too close to the rock wall on the eastern edge of the fan (falling rock can really ruin your day), was far enough away from the road that the overnight noise wasn’t overwhelming, and had the best view. Other than having big picture windows in the livingroom, it’s going to be a very simple house. We’re not made of money, and worry more about things like snow load on the roof than pretty gables. In fact, our designer got annoyed with us because he kept adding pretty stuff and we kept telling him NO. The living space will be fairly small, because there are only two of us and the older I get, the more relaxed my housekeeping standards become. I don’t want to clean more than necessary. There’s a full, unfinished basement to accommodate the fuel-oil-fed heating system, the large mandatory water tank (for dealing with fire), and the junk we can’t bear to part with. No propane, I’ll have to live with an electric kitchen. Husband won’t have such flammable stuff anywhere on the property. There was a propane explosion last year in Coleville, a little town up the road, at the marine base housing. It killed someone.

    Building on an alluvial fan depends on the fan. The stuff is surprisingly well consolidated and clay/tuff-rich, so all we needed was a traditional concrete foundation. I’ve seen alluvial fans in Owens Valley and the Mojave where I wouldn’t think of putting down anything but piers, because the material is so coarse. But the Devil’s Gate alluvium doesn’t move much. On the high site we chose, we had no trouble getting it to “perc”; test holes dug and filled with water drained fast enough to allow a leachfield downhill of the building site. The well is uphill of the building site and was dug in the second of two dry years. They drilled until they hit bedrock, about 330 ft. down. That suggests that what is now an alluvial fan was part of a lake bed during some previous interglacial. I’m washing gravel taken from the well drilling, to figure out the geologic history of our site.

    Regarding our mudhole as a wetland, it has been around long enough to have wetland plants growing near it… but nothing that isn’t also growing across the road along the spring channel. If Caltrans had only had the sense to put in a damn culvert where one was clearly warranted, this would not be an issue. When a drainage runs for 2-3 months (depending on the snowfall of the previous winter), and it originally ran across where the road now is, why on earth expect it to suddenly stop because you built a road?

    • Acolyte of Sagan says

      When a drainage runs for 2-3 months (depending on the snowfall of the previous winter), and it originally ran across where the road now is, why on earth expect it to suddenly stop because you built a road?

      I’ve been saying exactly the same thing for years, every bloody year, when farms, housing estates, or even whole towns built on flood plains ‘suddenly and unexpectedly’ actually get flooded. What the hell did they expect?