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San Lorenzo Creek Watershed Sediment Reduction and Habitat Enhancement Project

The Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District (ACFCWCD) undertook the San Lorenzo Creek Watershed Sediment Reduction and Habitat Enhancement Project as a way to address both water quality and wildlife habitat concerns in the upper watershed. The project helped to forge an innovative partnership between the County, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Alameda County Resource Conservation District (ACRCD). The ACFCWCD provided technical expertise, contract management, outreach and education and financial support. NRCS engineers designed the restoration projects and their technical staff served as important advisors throughout the project. ACRCD hired a San Lorenzo Creek Watershed Coordinator to oversee coordination of the project and to run the outreach and education component.

Three project sites were selected with resource concerns that were representative of typical rural/urban challenges to controlling non-point source pollution and erosion in the steep canyons of the upper watershed. The restoration efforts used bioengineering techniques to demonstrate how to install practices that both reduce erosion and improve wildlife habitat. These techniques focus on the combined use of live plant material, and inert structural components, such as rock, wood, and coir, to reinforce soil and stabilize slopes. In conjunction with the restoration efforts, a public outreach and education campaign was also implemented. Through tours, talks, workshops, newsletters, creek clean ups and a watershed festival, the County hoped to galvanize landowners and residents to form watershed awareness groups in the San Lorenzo Creek Watershed, which would be instrumental in protecting beneficial uses, promoting implementation of habitat-friendly practices and reducing non-point source pollution to the creeks.

Palomares Creek Restoration and Education Programs

At Palomares Elementary School, we found the perfect opportunity to implement not only a demonstration restoration site but also to help a school develop an integrated, standards-based watershed curriculum. Community members and school children participated in re-establishing native plant communities by regularly removing non-native vegetation and replanting with native plants propagated in the school’s garden and from local nurseries. A trail was completed through the site to allow access to the restoration sites and to allow access to the creek for class lessons. Completed in October 2002, the Palomares Creek Restoration focused on 300 linear feet of bank protection at Palomares Elementary School in Castro Valley. The project was managed by the Alameda County Conservation Partnership with additional funding provided by the Alameda County Public Works Agency.

Streambank protection on Palomares Creek was implemented to reshape the active stream channel and to protect four sites of active erosion. Treatment involved removing debris and fill, reshaping the active stream channel, and installing four bioengineering practices. The installations included placing 200 cubic yards of rock riprap, installing a live (vegetated) crib wall, stabilizing a streambank with rock toe protection and native vegetation, and placing bioengineering root wads. Native riparian vegetation was replanted at all four demonstration sites and a recreation trail was incorporated into the rock toe stabilization and the root wad revetment. This project was implemented to improve wildlife habitat and water quality while reducing sedimentation into Don Castro Reservoir. The site serves as an educational tool and outdoor classroom for Palomares Elementary School as well as a demonstration site for economical and effective bioengineering techniques. As a result of the construction, the severe erosion at the site was curbed significantly and wildlife habitat has been drastically improved.

The project has also resulted in an interest in habitat improvement in the watershed and Alameda County. Landowners located above and below the site have applied for federal assistance through the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program which will allow them to implement creek- and habitat-friendly restoration methods on their properties to reduce erosion and to improve water quality. Many other agencies, local community groups and residents have been inspired to try to implement similar programs throughout the county and the rest of the San Francisco Bay Area. The Palomares site also afforded many opportunities to learn about the difficulties faced by landowners in obtaining permits for beneficial projects. Construction on this project was delayed almost two years due to permitting delays caused by under-staffing and work overloads at the permitting agencies. And while the watershed curriculum program is a great success at the school and is serving as a model for other schools in the area, one key lesson learned was to be more aggressive in involving parents and members of the community in aiding the teachers with lessons and maintenance of the site from the beginning.

More information of on-going education programs at the school can be found here.

More project details available below:

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Upper Cull Canyon Project

The Upper Cull Canyon site provided the opportunity to address the issue of degraded or improperly installed culverts in the watershed which contribute significantly to erosion and habitat loss throughout the upper watershed. The need for the project came from an improperly installed culvert under a road. The culvert directed water onto the Rancho de los Amigos property and caused a deep gully to form. By using a combination of bioengineering techniques, such as bank reshaping, native riparian plantings, and properly sized culverts, new habitat was established and erosion was significantly curbed. Permitting issues forced the project to be delayed until nearly the end of the grant period. Tours of the site were offered throughout the grant period to members of various agencies to demonstrate the need to install culverts in a fashion that will not contribute to large problems in the future. Completed in September 2004, the project will continue to serve as a demonstration project to agency groups and private landowners.

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Eden Canyon Project

Eden Canyon Ranch afforded the chance to demonstrate what water quality measures could be implemented at an equine facility that was suffering not only from severe erosion but also from flooding through its stalls and barn. Previous dumping of concrete and debris and improperly installed culvert pipes created both an erosion and habitat problem along with challenges for the new landowners on the ranch. Completed in October 2004, the Eden Canyon Ranch project served as a good opportunity to address the common issue in the watershed of balancing the resource concerns with human considerations. As with Upper Cull Canyon, a mix of traditional methods and bioengineering practices, such as bank reshaping, obstruction removal, grade stabilization structures and native vegetation, combined to create new habitat while reducing erosion and non-point source pollution from the barn and stalls.

Upper Cull Canyon and Eden Canyon Ranch demonstrated acutely the problems facing landowners in attempting to install projects on their land. Permitting delays similar to the ones faced at the Palomares site created repeated delays and issues with both projects and almost forced the cancellation of the Eden Canyon project. During a pre-construction site survey at Eden Canyon Ranch, seven adult California red-legged frogs were observed in an isolated pool at the project site. This resulted in an additional three month delay because the US Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines require re-initiation of consultation if circumstances change at a project site. From these experiences with this project and other projects, the County partnered with the Conservation Partnership to design and to implement the Permit Coordination Program. This program provides landowners in Alameda County with a one-stop shop where they can receive all relevant permits for restoration projects using pre-approved conservation practices and greatly reduces the time and money spent applying for individual permits. Further information on the Permit Coordination Program can be found here.

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San Lorenzo Creek Watershed Education and Public Outreach

Outreach efforts, including the San Lorenzo Creek Watershed Newsletter, the Palomares Creek Watershed Festival and landowner, resident and school assistance programs, were a large part of the success of this project. Although the San Lorenzo Creek Watershed is large, common issues affect the different communities within it, which made it easier to demonstrate the benefit to the common good that these projects provided. Combining the project’s outreach efforts with other outreach efforts already underway in the community allowed more of the watershed to be reached than just the areas surrounding the project sites. The outreach efforts were conducted through the publication of a quarterly newsletter, participation in community events, coordination with San Lorenzo Creek Watershed stakeholders and through other restoration projects continuing throughout the watershed.

This project provided a good starting point for demonstrating the importance of watershed stewardship to the surrounding communities. Landowners, residents and agencies were able to observe the benefits to both water quality and habitat improvement at each project site and the entire watershed. Interest was generated at the local level in restoring larger stretches of the creeks and in trying to create a greenway from the San Francisco Bay to the tops of the watershed for the public to utilize. With continued outreach and education efforts and new demonstration projects, the San Lorenzo Creek Watershed will undoubtedly serve as a demonstration watershed that addresses the issues inherent to urban/rural interface watersheds throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Link to Palomares Watershed Festival and Watershed Publications:

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