More change ahead for Putah Creek

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WINTERS — The controversial final phase of the Putah Creek Nature Park Project in Winters may turn out to be just the first of many changes coming to the creek as a whole.

A proposed project could reshape stretches of the channel far beyond Winters, from the Diversion Dam all the way to the Yolo Bypass east of Davis — a nearly 25-mile span.

“The construction of the Monticello Dam was the biggest change that ever occurred and probably will ever occur (on Putah Creek),” said Rich Marovich, streamkeeper for the Solano County Water Authority. “The flow and the dimensions of the channel are out of balance. Right now it doesn’t function very well because the creek is bigger than the flows can support.”

After the dam was built in the 1950s, the amount of water flowing through Putah Creek was reduced by 90 percent, according to Marovich. But the creek channel itself remained just as wide and as deep as it had prior to the dam, when flows were much heavier.

The latest plan, which is separate from the project in Winters but similar in its function, would “restore and enhance geomorphological and ecological function” by narrowing the channel, modifying its meander, stabilizing banks, improving fish spawning gravel and more.

Led officially by SCWA and the Yolo Basin Foundation, the project is in the programmatic environmental impact report phase, which means community members soon will have a chance to weigh in.

Public comment will be taken at a public meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, June 28, at the Winters Community Library, 708 Railroad Ave. All feedback will be noted and included in the EIR before the project moves forward.

What is proposed?

According to the report, “the creek suffers from substantially reduced flows from flow diversions, altered channels and eroding banks, habitat loss and degradation, invasive weed infestations and other problems. … The program proposes to develop restoration projects on up to 17 separate creek reaches to optimize benefits to fish, wildlife and other resources.”

The main purpose is to “restore and rehabilitate the creek channel, banks and associated habitats to more natural, self-sustaining form and function.” The SCWA’s goal is to “jump-start” natural geomorphic and ecological processes in site-specific locations. According to the report, this would:

* Improve passage, rearing and emigration of adult and juvenile salmon in Putah Creek;

* Preserve and enhance, where possible, existing beneficial uses including public access, wildlife viewing, hunting and fishing, balanced with existing, enhanced and restored ecological functions; and

* Enhance habitats for delta native fishes and wildlife within the Putah Creek Upper Reach.

Opposition in Winters

One community member who will be at that meeting is Jeff TenPas, who has been a vocal opponent to the creek realignment in Winters, which is on hold as the city of Winters and Solano County Water Agency await permits that they failed to secure before last summer.

There is a huge gap of disagreement between those who approve and disapprove of the project in Winters, and much of it boils down to the fundamentals of what constitutes “restoration.” A unanimous City Council and the SCWA insist the local project will create a healthier creek.

TenPas and a sizeable group of community members who oppose it say the creek realignment not only threatens current wildlife populations but also has been marred by failures in its initial phases, especially those having to do with plants that struggled to take hold.

The Winters project truly became controversial when the city and SCWA tried to initiate Phase III last summer, which is situated in a popular viewing spot for beavers and other wildlife. Phase III would reroute a section of the creek away from the popular walking path and narrow the channel.

TenPas is a soil scientist, and he says the clay used to fill the channel was not only compacted by the heavy machinery that was used to reshape the creek, but also is a finer clay that can be packed far tighter than the native soil in the restored areas.

“Jeff says it’s exotic soil,” Marovich said, contesting TenPas’ claims. “It came from four miles up the road. It’s got river gravel in it. It’s not only of river origin, it’s of Putah Creek origin.”

Marovich concedes the issue of compaction and insists that the future creek work will address the issue head-on by decompacting soil after the work is done.

A search for the word “compaction” in the new EIR, however, yields only one hit throughout the entire 750-page document, and it’s not in a section that directly addresses plant growth or groundwater recharge.

Marovich is fatigued by conversations that focus on the past. He hopes the meeting will be geared toward what’s next for the creek.

“We need to focus on the future. These planning meetings are a chance to do that,” he said. “Let’s hear from diverse perspectives while we’re looking at a blank canvas.”

The issue, in Winters at least, has been that a vocal cohort of locals would prefer to leave the canvas blank rather than paint it at all.

Tuesday’s meeting is one of many planned to discuss the project. Others are scheduled to take place in Davis, Dixon and Vacaville.

Comment period
The public review and comment period is open until July 22. Written comments or questions should be mailed to: Solano County Water Agency, Putah Creek PEIR, 810 Vaca Valley Parkway, Suite 203, Vacaville, CA 95688.

Copies of the draft program EIR may be reviewed electronically at www.scwa2.com/about-us/publications or at the Stephens Branch Library, 315 E. 14th St. in Davis.

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