Winters Putah Creek Nature Park Fate Finally Fixed

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Construction of the publicly accessible Putah Creek Nature Park was scheduled to be done in three phases. Phase 1 and 2 were completed in 2011. The last, Phase 3, is the section of creek that comes closest to the asphalt walkway on the Yolo County, north, side of the creek.

Going ahead with the Phase 3 planned project, approved by the Winters City Council in 2008, was opposed by a group of citizens who formed the Winters Friends of Putah Creek. They threatened legal action that, to date, has not taken place.

The project was then required to get a permit from the Central Valley Flood Protection Board (CVFPB). That board requested permitting from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) to assess the environmental impact. Due to lack of budget, ACOE suspended investigation in June 2017.

A year later in May 2018, ACOE released their findings on Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3 and an additional stretch of creek closer to I-505, called by the acronym, NAWCA.

ACOE posted a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for all sections of the creek.  They also posted their environmental assessment of the projects.

On Friday, May 18, 2018, the Central Valley Flood Protection Board held a public hearing to decide whether they should issue the permits that would allow work on the Putah Creek Nature Park to proceed.

In brief, the nearly two-hour session went as follows: Board Staff said they had done a thorough assessment due to the controversial nature of the project and the number of protests received and they found no evidence to support the claims of adverse hydraulic impact on Putah Creek flooding. They found no additional environmental documents were needed and recommended approval of the permits.

Letters of support were from Don Saylor, Yolo County Supervisor; Bill Dodd, US Representative; and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, State Representative. Support comments were made at the hearing by John Donlevy (Winters City Manager), Eric Larsen (Winters Putah Creek Committee), Ken Davis (Wildlife Biologist), Shawn Yernick (Winters resident), Steven Carr (Putah Creek Trout) and Kent Anderson (Putah Creek Council).

Jeff TenPas and Alan Pryor of Winters Friends of Putah Creek opposed approving the permits. They both maintained that the Flood Protection Board should become a lead agency because new information made the CEQA agreements outdated. They raised no issues of flood control.

The President of the Board, Bill Edgar, said that the issues they raised were not within the jurisdiction of the board. He said the City of Winters had authority to approve this project and had already done so. He asked if TenPas and Pryor had made the same arguments to the City of Winters.

A lawyer from the Attorney General’s office with responsibility for environmental affairs said that the Flood Protection Board was not obligated to step into the role of lead agency. Both the CEQA analysis and the ACOE environmental assessment report confirm that there is no flood risk. The CEQA documents have not been challenged, and therefore, they stand.

The CVFPB voted unanimously to grant the permit allowing the Putah Creek Nature Park restoration to continue.
Tim Ramirez, board member said, “I want to thank the folks who came. In a lot of ways this is a good example of the kind of problem I wish we had regularly – there is tons of interest in what is happening on creeks and rivers…..  That said, this is not the way for us to hear about it. We are seven years late and this is thrown out as a way for people to block a project. There is a mission to undermine the creek.”

On Monday, May 21, the Winters Putah Creek Committee met and the Nature Park was a discussion item. The role of this committee is to advise the city council on matters pertaining to Putah Creek.

At this meeting TenPas raised three issues he said were not addressed in the CEQA document: First, moving the creek 100 feet; Second, loss of a swimming hole for kids and Third, lack of ground water refill of the creek, which is why the trees are dying.

Each of these arguments was directly rebutted by several committee members. The matter will not be brought to the council by the Winters Putah Creek Committee.

Rich Marovich, Putah Creek Streamkeeper for the Solano County Water Agency, responded to questions by email. He said that work on Putah Creek will start “as soon as we have clearance for nesting birds and beaver kits have left their dens, most likely mid-July though it also depends on availability of the contractor.”

He said that construction will take about a month. It will be “the final phase of channel realignment linking phases 1 and 2 with a design channel and filling the upstream end of the existing channel – leaving a backwater for habitat diversity and wildlife viewing from the north bank trail.

“Instead of filling the entire existing channel we are blocking the west end only, leaving a backwater….  The backwater habitat is more valuable than floodplain in this case according to Melanie Truan, [a wildlife biologist with the project].”

It remains to be seen if this is the final chapter in the story of Putah Creek.

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