Creek Runs Though Us29 November 2014 Written by By Diane Burgis
Published in December 2014 Articles
My initial encounter with FOMCW took place when my son, Sam, who was in third grade at the time, was assigned to illustrate a book called Critters Of The Wetlands.
I helped FOMCW set up a display for the book at a CornFest table and met Mary Grimm, who was associated with the Research Conservation District — a sponsoring organization who helped start FOMCW. Mary seemed impressed with my enthusiasm and the quality of my participation. A few years later, I landed the administrator job because Mary Grimm was involved in the hiring process.
My first act as executive director was to learn what was actually happening, so I scheduled interviews with the core leaders who were at the center of the organization’s planning and activity. I discovered that each of them had specific areas of expertise and concern. Some were interested in gardening and preserving native plants. Others were what I call “critter people” — concerned with issues having to do with fish and wildlife. Some of them were focused on monitoring and maintaining water quality. Others were interested in public policy aspects and were focused on the possibility of influencing the government to maintain environmental quality.
I realized that, with proper management, we could create effective synergies by bringing together the various individuals with their diverse interests, enabling us to make effective and enduring improvements in the Marsh Creek watershed. The comprehensive vision began to attract a variety of people to the program. We began to see results. The volunteer base expanded. Even in the midst of the terrible economy collapse, we were able to complete the important Fish Ladder and Creekside Park Restoration projects.
We’ve been documenting salmon populations since 2004 and completed the fish ladder project in 2009. The presence of salmon is a healthy element in any aquatic system because the fish spawn and then die, providing nutrients for scavengers. Of course, the eggs they leave behind are the promise of increased fish population numbers in the years ahead. Because of the recent years of catastrophic drought, we haven’t been able to document the long-term effects of the ladder on local salmon migrations. However, in December 2013 we found a wild salmon carcass at Brentwood’s Creekside Park. Videos have been taken of salmon moving near the Balfour Bridge.
One of our main projects was to make major design changes to the deep bank “trapezoidal channel” flood control system, which the Flood Control District had set up in the ’50s. At that time, they reformatted the channel, created deep banks, and removed all vegetation. The design prevented the farmland flooding that had previously caused so much economic damage, but it did so by essentially converting large stretches of Marsh Creek into little more than drainage ditches. Years later, houses had replaced many of the farmlands and residents were now strolling, riding bicycles, and pushing baby strollers on trails that had grown up along the creek. Many of them didn’t realize that the unsightly ditch was actually a stream with a thriving and diverse population of fish, birds, and aquaticbased vegetation.
Our goal was to reestablish the creek’s original character as a genuine stream by restoring wildlife habitat. As originally designed, any vegetation would diminish the channel’s capacity, so we collaborated with the Natural Heritage Institute in designing a two-stage channel with an upper level on which trees and bushes could be planted.
Local municipalities initially showed little concern that the stream flowing through their communities resembled a ditch or canal. We were kicked out of the City of Oakley’s City Council meeting in the middle of our initial presentation. Things got easier a few years later when I myself was elected as a council member. We continued presenting the benefits that creating attractive natural spaces could bring to a community. Our efforts got a real boost when Flood Control officials realized that channels incorporating our new design would not only be attractive but would actually expand the waterway’s flow capacity.
Bureaucrats are naturally in a “show me” state about new ideas, so we needed to demonstrate the vision. The Natural Heritage Institute collaborated with us in designing the Oakley Creekside Park Restoration Project. Sarah Beamish Puckett helped write the grant proposal on behalf of FOMCW for the City of Oakley. The project illustrated to residents what an attractive flood control channel could look like and demonstrated to the Flood Control people that it really was able to carry more floodwater. Community representatives began to understand the value of having a lovely natural space running through their neighborhoods. Layers of benefit result from habitat restoration projects. Quality of life is improved. Home values go up when scenic trails and open spaces are within easy walking distance. Children who live near a trail have lower obesity rates.
The Creekside Park Restoration became an effective show-and-tell piece for other communities. Walnut Creek, for example, is now considering a similar project. I’ve been meeting with the Brentwood officials who are beginning to embrace our vision and to incorporate creek and natural spaces restoration into their General Plan.
During the next five years, we are hoping to work on Palmilla Project, which is the stretch of creek between Central Avenue and the railroad tracks, near the confluence of Sand Creek with Marsh Creek. We will strengthen our monitoring program, and perhaps assist the Department Of Water Resources with the Dutch Slough Restoration Project, at the mouth of Marsh Creek.
Environmental restoration and protection is an idea whose time has come. People are beginning to embrace the reality that preserving wildlife habitat must be a core value because at some fundamental level we realized that our success in doing so is ultimately connected to our own preservation as a species on this planet.