Fossils in the Foothills

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Imagine a time before humans existed, when large beasts roamed the land abundant with fresh water and primordial plant life. Imagine staring across a river channel and seeing a landscape full of elephant-like animals with four giant tusks and ancient camels with long necks and no back hump, while a 400-pound sabretooth salmon swims below. Imagine taking a sip of water that has been cycling the earth for as many as 10 million years. Now imagine it’s not your imagination at all, but a reality that has been buried for millions of years, until now.

This year, EBMUD announced a history-making discovery of a trove of fossils dating back to the Miocene Epoch, some 10 million years ago. The discovery was made by an EBMUD Ranger in the Mokelumne River watershed in the Sierra Nevada foothills, which today is the primary drinking source for 1.4 million people in the East Bay. Partnering with the California State University, Chico Department of Geology, EBMUD has excavated hundreds of fossils representing nearly a dozen species from the period after dinosaurs, but before humans. “These fossils will help fill gaps in our understanding of the formation of the region and planet,” said Ranger Naturalist Greg Francek, who made the incredible discovery while patrolling the watershed.

The discovery has reached the farthest ends of the earth – news outlets worldwide have written articles, created animations, and filmed documentaries about it in Europe, Asia, the Americas, and beyond. And the discovery indicates that the water cycle we rely on today is the same cycle that mastodons, gomphotheres, and bone-crushing dogs relied on in prehistoric days. 

So the next time you take a drink of EBMUD water, take a moment to appreciate this precious resource. After all, it has sustained life for longer than any human has walked the earth. Fossils from this discovery are on display at the California State University, Chico, Gateway Science Museum.

More on the web See EBMUD’s virtual tour of the discovery at ebmud.com/education. Also available in Spanish and Chinese.