Celebrating Fifteen Years: Creeks and Rivers
Creeks and rivers are the Bay Area’s lifeblood, providing clean water to sustain the region’s natural habitat and wildlife.
Historically impacted through channelization, water diversion and development, these waterways have become the focus of intensive efforts to restore riparian function as well as improve fish passage. The Conservancy has worked to enhance the functioning of the region’s watersheds by providing restoration planning, design and construction assistance for 50 creeks and rivers to date.
In 2007 the Conservancy funded a study by the Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration, which evaluated the Bay Area watersheds having the highest restoration potential for steelhead trout. It identified eight as “anchor watersheds” accounting for three quarters of the region’s habitat resources. These eight – the Guadalupe and Napa rivers, and Alameda, Coyote, San Francisquito, Corte Madera, Sonoma and Suisun creeks have become a focal point for Conservancy restoration efforts. Restoration work on other creeks and rivers in the Bay Area remains valuable when it achieves a variety of objectives.
Ellis Creek Restoration
With Conservancy funds, the Southern Sonoma County Resource Conservation District successfully stabilized and re-vegetated an eroding half mile of Ellis Creek (a tributary to Sonoma Creek) in coordination with a California Integrated Waste Management Board project to remove thousands of tires placed in the creek decades ago for erosion control. Working with the landowner, the RCD planted riparian vegetation, installed streamside fencing, and implemented a solar powered watering trough system. The farmer is now able to selectively graze the riparian corridor for invasive weed control while preventing soil loss and avoiding damage from year round grazing access in this sensitive creek.
“We’re already seeing a significant improvement in controlling erosion and soil loss from the enhancement project at Ellis Creek. The combination of the exclusionary fencing and new riparian plantings work together and it’s a noticeable difference in just a couple of years.”
Andrew & Nicholas Flocchini, Ranchers
The Napa River runs along a fertile valley floor centered in awatershed of 450 square miles. Despite the pressures of urbanization, agriculture, and grazing, the watershed has high restoration potential. Recognizing the importance of this anchor watershed, the Conservancy has funded the following:
The Napa River Rutherford Reach Restoration is a pioneering private-public partnership between local landowners, the Rutherford Dust Society, Napa County, and the Napa County Resource Conservation District to restore 4.5 miles of the main stem of the Napa River. Preliminary design for the entire project, funded by Conservancy and Napa County funds, was completed in 2008, and phased construction is now underway.
- The retrofit of the historic Zinfandel Lane Bridge, completed in 2011 by Napa County in cooperation with the RCD, removed a crucial fish passage barrier on the Napa River. The project has immediately benefited Chinook salmon and steelhead trout by restoring access to 65 miles of habitat in the upper Napa River watershed.
- The Conservancy has also funded the RCD to assess high priority fish barriers in the Napa River basin and the San Francisco Estuary Institute for an historical ecology assessment of the Napa Valley – both efforts that provide a context for our ongoing restoration work throughout the watershed.
The mostly rural 53-square-mile Suisun Creek watershed drops down from southeastern Napa County into Solano County and drains into Suisun Marsh. In the late 1990s, a wide-ranging group of stakeholders, including ranchers and farmers, advocates for the restoration of native fisheries, the City of Vallejo, and resource agencies came together with a common vision of restoring the fishery and other natural resources in the watershed. The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, with a grant from the Conservancy, prepared a Suisun Creek Watershed Assessment and Enhancement Plan. Then, with grants from the Conservancy and others, the Alliance and the California Land Stewardship Institute embarked on a long-term program of working with ranchers and farmers to eradicate extensive stands of non-native giant reed that clogged Suisun Creek and its tributaries, to restore native riparian vegetation, and remove other barriers to movement of the migratory steelhead.
Significant steelhead trout and salmon runs once existed in Alameda Creek. However, 80 years of urbanization, water diversion and flood control projects have created migration barriers, reduced water flows in the creek and eliminated the fish runs. Despite these changes, much of the watershed still provides suitable fish rearing and spawning habitat, and steelhead trout have been seen trying to migrate upstream in Alameda Creek on many occasions since 1998. Unfortunately, these fish are prevented from reaching their available spawning habitat by a variety of obstacles. Since 1999, the Alameda Creek Fisheries Restoration Work Group, a consortium of a dozen state, local and federal partners including the Conservancy, has been seeking ways to overcome these obstacles to fish migration. The Work Group’s planning efforts have focused on removal of fish barriers, studies to determine how to improve stream habitat and management of water flows, and adapting existing infrastructure to protect fish. Restoring steelhead runs in this urban creek has wide-ranging benefits for the community, the creek, and the Bay itself.
East Bay Creeks
The Conservancy has enhanced the natural and recreational resources of several major East Bay Creeks, including Arroyo Viejo, Sausal, and Codornices Creeks in Alameda County and Baxter, Cerrito, Marsh, Pinole, and Rheem Creeks in Contra Costa County. Grants to cities and nonprofit creek groups allowed for the planning and construction of regional trail connections that run along creek banks, the installation of interpretive signs and educational features, the removal of straightened concrete channels and culverts, the removal of dams and other fish barriers, and the restoration of native riparian vegetation. These projects benefit water quality, fish, and song birds, while greening our urban spaces and connecting East Bay residents to nature.