Putah Creek was a dumping ground in the years before the Putah Creek Council began clean up and restoration efforts. Peter Moyle/Courtesy photo
The creek was in danger of dying.
That’s when the Putah Creek Council stepped in to ensure the creek would remain a living stream with water year-round.
When negotiations with the Solano County Water Agency and others went nowhere, the council, joined by the city of Davis and UC Davis, went to court.
On May 23, 2000, the Putah Creek Accord was signed, guaranteeing permanent surface water flows for the 23 miles of Putah Creek below the Putah Creek Diversion Dam.
The accord requires scheduled water flows — increased in fall for salmon and steelhead trout migrating upstream and in spring for spring-spawning native fish and salmon and steelhead migrating out.
The accord also provided permanent funding to restore and monitor the creek and a streamkeeper to watch over the work.
Nearly 19 years later, it is the council and Streamkeeper Rich Marovich who continue the work of restoring a creek bed once ravaged by gravel mining, diverted water flows and flood control, to a riparian habitat with thriving trout and salmon populations.
Kent Anderson, who serves as the council’s executive director, says the Putah Creek Council operates in three silos: education, advocacy and stewardship.
It is the education component, Anderson said, that Saylor wants to increase via Soup’s On funding, particularly an educational program focused on Yolo County school children.
The council’s educational efforts — for both children and adults — focuses on the importance of a healthy creek and how a healthy ecosystem with native plants filters water, reduces carbon, attracts beneficial insects and wildlife and more.
“It’s a living being,” Anderson said of the creek. “Every year it changes its course, moves plants and gravel around.”
Children learn that and take what they learned home to their parents, along with the message that while you may not fish in or regularly run along the creek, if you live in the area, you’re reaping the benefits, Anderson said.
The council’s work extends beyond education, of course.
Anderson and Marovich are particularly proud of the work done at the council’s nursery just outside Davis, where native and watershed plants are collected and propagated, then provided to restoration projects in the region.
A constant battle in Putah Creek has been eradicating non-native invasive species which are then replaced with native plants, helped along by the nursery.
“It gives those native plants a leg up in replicating,” Anderson said.
Putah Creek’s nursery also has provided plants to prevent erosion in the area of the Camp Fire and previously provided more than 100 oak trees for planting in the area of the Napa fires, Anderson said.
Some of the council’s recent work can be seen at the nature park in Winters, where non-native plants have been removed and replace by native plants. The council has also received funds to create interpretative signage in the park.
Putah Creek marks the boundary between Yolo and Solano counties. Elizabeth Case/Enterprise file graphic
And twice a year, the council hosts creek “clean up days,” the biggest one in September and a smaller one in the Spring.
Clean-up days feature as many as one hundred volunteers turning out to clean up trash in and along the creek. They don’t just pick up the trash either, Anderson said; they keep track of and log what they’re finding.
The events are popular with volunteers of all ages, Anderson said, and serve as a great entry point for folks interested in finding a way to participate with the council’s work.
“It’s a good one-time activity,” he noted, and a very fulfilling one: At the end of the day, participants can see what they’ve accomplished.
The council, in turn, can see what it has accomplished over the years.
“Back when the Putah Creek Council started, you could put a huge group in the creek and never get everything out,” Anderson said.
There would be automobiles, farm equipment and much more simply dumped in the creek.
“Now it’s spray paint cans, cigarette butts, garbage,” Anderson said. “But we’re not seeing a lot of big things anymore.
“It’s not as bad as it used to be.”
And one of the reasons it’s not so bad, he said, is the consciousness raised thanks to the council’s efforts… “a consciousness in society that dumping your old car or lawn mower in the creek” is not a good thing.
The council’s stewardship and education components are largely integrated that way, using one to promote the other.
Key things residents need to know include the impact of a healthy riparian ecosystem on both flood and fire control.
Removing invasive species helps with both, Marovich said.
“Wildfires are much more severe in areas that are overrun with invasive species,” he said. And the build up of invasive thatch increases flooding issues.
“It’s a multi-year battle to get rid of these weeds (but) we’re on a path to get rid of it,” he said.
Benefits accrue further with the presence of more aquatic insects, which feed nesting birds.
“We’ve come to focus on the form and function of the creek,” Marovich said. “If it’s out of natural form, it’s out of natural function.”
And he compared it to a compound fracture — not likely to heal on its own.
“Putah Creek will always have to be managed,” Marovich said, and there always will be more to learn.
“Restoration science is very new. We have to try things to observe the effect. We’re constantly trying new things.”
“It’s very humbling to do this work,” he added.
The majority of the council’s funding comes through grants and contracts, and most of those through the Solano County Water Agency — a former foe that’s now a partner and supporter of the council’s work.
The council, Anderson noted, is built to do the things the water agency is legally required to do under that historic accord.
But the work also benefits the water agency, he noted, because if people aren’t polluting the water, it helps the water agency. Additionally, the more people know about protecting watersheds, the better.
To that end, the water agency supports Putah Creek Council’s education efforts, including by supporting a water ways program that soon will reach all fourth and fifth graders in Solano County.
Those children, in turn, will take what they learn home, educating their families, Anderson noted.
The council also relies on charitable donations, and the funds raised by Soup’s On will go toward an educational program similar to that in Solano County that will be brought to students in Yolo County, Anderson said.
The 15th annual Soup’s On runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at St. James Church, 1275 B St., on Thursday, Jan. 24.
The evening features live music from Bonanza King, beer from Sudwerk Brewery, salad and cookies from Raley’s and bread from the Upper Crust Bakery Company. Soups will be provided by Dos Coyotes, Buckhorn Steakhouse, Crepeville, Savory Cafe Restaurant, Nugget Markets, and others. For more information or to help sponsor the event, contact Saylor at email@example.com.]]>