Phase 3 of Putah Creek restoration project could start soon

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By Todd R. Hansen Fairfield Daily Republic Work on the $1.1 million third phase of the Putah Creek restoration project – delayed four years while waiting for a federal flood zone work permit – could finally get started in the coming weeks. “We are planning to start after Labor Day,” said Rich Marovich, the streamkeeper for the Lower Putah Creek Coordinating Committee and the Solano County Water Agency. The exact starting date was not known. The contractor, Four M Contracting in Vacaville, said Monday that it is just waiting on the notice to proceed from the Solano County Water Agency, which according to agency officials, is just a matter of getting the order across town. However, there is a pending lawsuit filed in June by the Friends of Putah Creek that challenges the project’s environmental review – or as it contends – a lack of any kind of review. “The inclusion of Phase 3 as part of the ‘the project’ constitutes a substantial change to the project. CEQA requires that a responsible agency prepare a subsequent environmental review document when there are changes to a project or its circumstances occurs after adoption of a negative declaration and the responsible agency grants the next discretionary approval for the project,” the lawsuit filed June 29 in Solano County Superior Court by Davis attorney Donald B. Mooney states. CEQA is an acronym for the California Environmental Quality Act. The action was taken against the Central Valley Flood Protection Board and the Solano County Water Agency. Marovich said work is likely to get underway and could be completed before the court matter is settled. He said a California Environmental Quality Act expert from the state Attorney General’s Office was at the Flood Protection Board meeting when the final permit was issued May 18, the day after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued its long-awaited permit. He said the Attorney General’s Office signed off on the permit to allow the work to move forward. The third phase, in essence, connects the work that had been done in the first two phases, and marks the conversion of the former Winters sewer ponds that were located on the south side of the creek about a third of a mile downstream from the vehicle bridge that crosses the creek at the city park. “This was an industrial site prior to the Clean Water Act where the city processed raw sewage into the (creek) channel,” Marovich said. The work calls for the main creek channel to be “plugged” upstream, and diverted through what will be a newly created channel that will be half as wide and half as deep, with a meandering design of ponds and riffles. It will reconnect to the main channel downstream. The whole footprint is about 5 acres. “Right now, the water hits this big wide area that is 60 feet wide and 6 feet deep and has no discernible flow,” Marovich said. Remnants of the berms that created the three city ponds will be removed. The channel will be about 30 feet wide and 3 feet deep, which will allow for faster, cooler water to run through the area, and will create more than 1,100 feet of new spawning area for the Chinook salmon. Additionally, the existing main channel will remain in place and provides a pond environment for beavers already living in the area, as well as for other animals. Because the grading is so flat, Marovich said, water from the downstream channel will back up into the ponding area. This is the kind of work the Friends of Putah Creek most strongly opposes. “Friends of Putah Creek is resolved that further extreme alteration of the creek using disproved methods and without environmental review cannot continue unchallenged. This has resulted in the filing of this lawsuit demanding that proper environmental review of this (third) phase of the Winters Putah Creek project and another immediately downstream be performed as required by California law,” according to a statement on the group’s website. Another project will follow, probably next year. That is a project to remove the bamboo-like arundo, blackberry bushes and some eucalyptus trees from the channel starting on the western city limits to Interstate 505, the kind of work with which the Friends of Putah Creek is more aligned. “Friends of Putah Creek wholeheartedly supports removal of invasive plant species, replanting with native species, and improved public access to the creek, including handicap access. We support judicious and selective improvement of salmon spawning habitat. We also strongly support the continued stable water flows into the creek from Monticello Dam resulting from litigation with the SCWA 15 years ago as it has clearly improved creek health,” the website states. “But we do (not) support wholesale bulldozing of the creek’s mature riparian habitat and its radical realignment based on speculative, unproven assumptions that put its ecological health at risk,” according to the website. “We believe thorough scientific evaluation of Phases 1 and 2 project failures would result in complete stoppage of geomorphological engineering of the creek. Radically changing the natural shape of the channel is misguided and destructive to the environmental health of Putah Creek.” Proponents of the project work point to the large number of returning salmon as evidence that the work has been anything but a failure, but rather a great success.

This article originally appeared in the Fairfield Daily Republic, a sister-publication of the Winters Express.]]>

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Correction: Sept 6, 2018

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