Posts Tagged ‘Watershed’

Delta Conservancy Logo 3I have been working at the Delta Conservancy for just over a year now. In that time, one of the major projects I have been working on is our Proposition 1 Grant Program. Proposition 1 was a water bond passed by voters in 2014. Among many other things, it allocated $50 million dollars for the Delta Conservancy to give out to fund projects that would restore habitat, improve water quality, and/or support sustainable agriculture within the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. A large part of my role here has been to help our Program Manager and higher ranking staff to form the competitive process by which organizations could submit proposals for projects, the process of reviewing and ranking those proposals to determine which will be funded, and then the management of the specific grant awards to successful projects.

In 2015, just before I began working here, the Delta Conservancy received its first round of project proposals (there will be subsequent rounds in the fall of 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019). I was very involved in reviewing those proposals and scoring them to determine which would go on to be awarded funding. We have now gone through the entire process of reviewing the proposals, recommending the most qualified proposals to our board of directors for approval, and then writing the actual grant agreements which is pretty exciting because it now means we are able to move forward with giving funds to get projects accomplished.

I thought it might be interesting to introduce you to those projects as they get underway. I am going to be the grant manager for four of the projects from our 2015 batch of proposals, and so will focus on those projects because they are the ones I am most intimately involved with.

Of the grants I will be managing, one has gone through the complete process and has a signed and executed grant agreement with the Delta Conservancy, and that is the one I am going to introduce here.


The confluence of Marsh Creek (entering from the left) and Sand Creek (entering from the right) in Brentwood, CA (Photo by American Rivers).

The project is called the Lower Marsh and Sand Creek Watershed Riparian Restoration Planning Project. It was proposed by a non-profit organization named American Rivers with two major goals: 1) to develop a plan to select and organize restoration projects along the portions of Marsh Creek and Sand Creek where they flow through the cities of Brentwood, Oakley and Antioch, CA, and 2) to create and distribute guidelines for how to incorporate stormwater runoff into land use designs. This project has a budget of $73,493 to be spent over the course of three years.

The area where both goals of this project will focus is an area of heavy urban and suburban development. Of all the regions in the Delta, the cities listed above encompass the largest, and fastest growing, human population. The creeks in this area flow down canals that have very little vegetation along their banks and so provide almost no habitat for native birds, mammals, insects, fish, etc. The first goal of this planning project will help American Rivers and their partners to move quickly to acquire properties along the creeks as they become available, and also to design habitat restoration projects on those properties.

When heavy rains fall on the region, that water must go somewhere, and go there quickly. This stromwater runoff is a pulse of water that hits the system suddenly and washes debris, litter, and other pollutants into the creeks. This creates the need for dealing with these stromwater runoff flows in such a way as to minimize the negative impacts to the creeks. The second goal of this project will be the development of techniques for how property owners along the creeks can manage stromwater runoff. These techniques may include stormwater drains that have screens for catching trash that can then be easily disposed of, the formation on drainage ditches that will let stormwater runoff pool and then flow more slowly into the creek and so reduce erosion and limit the release of large amounts of pollution, and other practices that will benefit the creeks of the region. These guidelines will be incorporated into the property development handbook that they cities use and that property developers must follow.

In the three years that this planing project will take, it is going to be very interesting to see what restoration projects come to the surface and what stormwater guidelines are developed. I will keep you posted on these developments and also on the other grants I will be managing as they come online.

Now that it is fall of 2016, our second round of proposals are in the midst of being reviewed and scored. I am looking forward to seeing what projects are proposed and which are successful and will be funded by the Delta Conservancy.

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There are currently ten state conservancies operating in California. Each of these state agencies was established to promote and protect a certain part of the California landscape that was deemed by the California legislature to be of particular importance. All the state conservancies operate within the California Resources Agency. Each conservancy is under the guidance of a board of directors that is comprised of a range of individuals who represent federal, state, and local agencies and NGOs that advise each conservancy’s staff on how to accomplish their core mission. Since I started working for one of these conservancies a few months ago, I thought it might be interesting to introduce the whole set. So here they are, in order of when they were created, the California State Conservancies.

1. The California Coastal Conservancy was founded in 1976. It’s mission statement is “…to preserve, protect, and restore the resources of the California coast, ocean, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Our vision is of a beautiful, restored, and accessible coastline, ocean and San Francisco Bay Area.” This agency is tasked with managing the 1,100 miles of coastline that runs from Oregon to Mexico. In 2014, their operating budget was around $8 million.

2. The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy was founded in 1979. It’s mission statement is “…to strategically buy back, preserve, protect, restore, and enhance treasured pieces of Southern California to form an interlinking system of urban, rural and river parks, open space, trails, and wildlife habitats that are easily accessible to the general public.” To accomplish this, the SMMC owns or manages thousands of acres from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Ocean.

3. The California Tahoe Conservancy was founded in 1984. It’s mission is “…to restore and sustain a balance between the natural and the human environment and between public and private uses at Lake Tahoe.” Since its founding, it has acquired over 6,500 acres in the Tahoe Basin, and has worked to control invasive species, improve water quality, and restore forests and wetlands in the Tahoe Basin. In 2014, their operating budget was approximately $9.5 million.

4. The Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy was founded in 1991. It’s mission statement is “…to protect the natural and cultural resources of the Coachella Valley: the scenic, wildlife, cultural, geologic, and recreational resources that make this such a splendid place for people and all the other life forms with which we share this special place.” With only limited staff and funds, this conservancy has ensured the conservation of over 46,200 acres.

5. The San Joaquin River Conservancy was founded in 1995. It’s mission includes, “…develop and manage the San Joaquin River Parkway, a planned 22-mile natural and recreational area in the floodplain extending from Friant Dam to Highway 99. The Conservancy’s mission includes acquiring approximately 5,900 acres from willing sellers; developing, operating, and managing those lands for public access and recreation; and protecting, enhancing, and restoring riparian and floodplain habitat.”

6. The San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy was founded 1999. It’s mission is “…to preserve open space and habitat in order to provide for low-impact recreation and educational uses, wildlife habitat restoration and protection, and watershed improvements within our jurisdiction.” The area covered by this conservancy is across eastern Los Angeles County and western Orange County.

7. The Baldwin Hills Conservancy was founded in 2001. It’s mission is… “to acquire open space and manage public lands within the Baldwin Hills area and to provide recreation, restoration and protection of wildlife habitat within the territory for the public’s enjoyment and educational experience.” The Baldwin Hills are a small area of unincorporated Los Angeles near Culver City about 450 acres in size.

8. The San Diego River Conservancy was founded in 2003. This Conservancy’s enabling legislation states that… “The agency’s mission, the restoration and conservation of the San Diego River Area, is accomplished by (1) acquiring, managing and conserving land; and (2) protecting or providing recreational opportunities, open space, wildlife species and habitat, wetlands, water quality, natural flood conveyance, historical / cultural resources, and educational opportunities.” One of the major goals of this Conservancy is to create a river-long park and hiking trail that will run from the river’s headwaters near the town of Julian to the Pacific Ocean.

9. The Sierra Nevada Conservancy was founded in 2004. It’s mission states that the “Sierra Nevada Conservancy initiates, encourages, and supports efforts that improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region, its communities and the citizens of California.” The Sierra Nevada Conservancy operates throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains providing funding for projects that support it’s mission.

10. The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy was founded in 2010. It’s mission is… “Working collaboratively and in coordination with local communities, the Conservancy will lead efforts to protect, enhance, and restore the Delta’s economy, agriculture and working landscapes, and environment, for the benefit of the Delta region, its local communities, and the citizens of California.” The Delta Conservancy operates throughout the legal boundary of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh by providing funding, support, and project management to efforts that further it’s mission.


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Codornices Creek runs from the hills of Berkeley, California where its headwaters feed from the little valleys and ravines of Grizzly Peak Ridge.  From there it flows down out of the hills, through several city parks, and then down through much of urban Berkeley all the way to the San Francisco Bay where it has its terminus just north of the Golden Gate Fields racetrack.  The whole watershed drains about 1504 acers (Figure 1) which results in from three to thirteen cubic feet per second of water to flow out of the mouth of Codornices Creek each year.


Codornices Creek Watershed

Let’s take a walk through this watershed, a walk that will move through space an time.  What happened along the banks of this creek, and what is happening now?  Who and what lived in and used this watershed, and who and what is living here and using it today?

The Ohlone Indians arrived in the area sometime before 500 C.E., and lived along this creek.  In the upper areas of the watershed, they hunted deer, rabbit, and squirrel.  They also collected the nuts of Bay Laurel trees and acorns for food.  Later, the Spanish, and even later Mexicans, granted the whole area as part of the Rancho San Antonio.  It remained a rancho until Americans stole or bought the land after gold was discovered in California.  Today, deer still live in the hills around the headwaters, as do rabbit and squirrel, although the species of squirrel had changed from the native Western Grey Squirrel to the invasive Eastern Fox Squirrel.  Both Bay Laurels and Oaks are still producing their seeds.  However, more has changed than the species of squirrel.  Several non-native plants have been introduced that are quite different from anything the Ohlone would have lived with.  Eucalyptus trees, Scotch Broom, and English Ivy all now are making impacts on the native habitat.  Further, many animals that the Ohlone might have encountered are gone.  The Mountain Lion could still be found in the watershed, but in far smaller numbers than historically would have been here, and the Grizzly Bear used to roam through this area in large numbers, but does so no longer.

At the bottom of this area of mostly untrammeled habitat, the creek enters several city parks.  These are almost a transitional zone between the open space of the watershed above and the suburban and urban areas below.  These parks have left the creek alone.  They have worked with or around the water for the most part.  Codornices Creek Park is where the headwaters all join to become the unified Codornices Creek that flows the rest of the way.

One section in this stretch of watershed that is not owned by the city is owned by the Beth El Temple.  On this land the creek has undergone quite a bit of change.  When Beth El purchased the land, neighbors were concerned for future of the creek, and as part of the sales settlement the temple was required to develop a plan that would limit damage to the creek during construction.  However, during construction, a significant amount of sediment was released into the creek.  To prevent further sediment releases, and to lessen the impact that the construction was having on the banks of the creek, Beth El decided to move the entire creek bed.  They re-dug a stream channel, diverted the flow, and then began to replant the new banks with native vegetation.  All of this at considerable cost, no doubt.

Once the creek flows into more urban areas of Berkeley, it begins passing through a series of daylighted sections and culverts.  Most of the way to the bay the creek is daylighted.  It is culverted only where it passes under a cross-street making it the most open creek in the east bay. Most of the path of the creek is on private property and, between streets, there is still quite a bit of vegetation on the banks as the creek runs between houses and through yards.  However, even though the creek is open to the sky along for most of its length, that does not mean that it is in is natural state now.  This entire region of Berkeley used to be the flood plain of Codornices Creek.  Now, retaining walls that alter and redirect the flow of water, concrete creek bottoms that reduce available habitat, and limited room for the creek bed to meander have all changed the hydrology of Codornices Creek substantially from when the Ohlone and Spanish would have seen it.  All these changes cause the creek to flow faster now than in times past.  Faster flow means more incising of the bed, more erosion, and more debris carried by the water.  Further the creek is completely culverted when it passes directly under Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School.

While there are no large open areas where smaller tributary streams can flow into Codornices Creek in such an urban environment, this does not mean that the creek has no water flowing into it from this area.  The city streets are still part of the watershed, and the runoff from them carries pollutants, both chemical and solid, with it into the creek.

At the lower end of the watershed, the creek passes under the railway track, where it is open, and under I-580, where it runs through a culvert.  From there it then flows out into a small marsh next to the Golden Gate Racetrack.  Down along this section of creek, the Ohlone used to catch Steelhead Trout, and some of these fish can still be found in the lower section of the creek.  Then, finally, Codornices Creek comes to it’s terminus at the bayshore where it flows into a tidal mud-flat.

These fish, along with frogs and other amphibians, many birds and several mammals are all reminders that there is still wilderness in Codornices Creek, and it needs support and protection.  This work is being done by local non-profit organizations such as the Friends of Five Creeks and the Urban Creek Counsel.  These groups have worked to restore habitat and water quality along the creek and are continuing to monitor many aspects of the effects that humans are having on the Codornices Creek watershed.



– The Codornices Creek Watershed Restoration Action Plan (2003).  From the Live

– Oak/Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association.  Available at http://loccna.katz.com/creek/ActionPlan-Kier.html

– FrogWatch USA (2003). From the National Wildlife Federation.  Available at


– Live Oak to Tamalpais Walk (1998).  From the Berkeley Path Wanderers Association.  Available

at http://www.berkeleypaths.com/walkhandouts/walk_LiveOakToTamalpais.htm


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