Nature Nearby: Climate change and Putah Creek

A fawn searches for acorns for food amongst the ash at Lake Solano after the LNU Complex Fire. Photo by Leslie Allen/Courtesy photo

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By Alli Permann, Putah Creek Council Education Program Assistant Special to the Express How do you factor in climate change? It can be a worrisome question, yet, it’s one that rightfully so demands an answer. A question that seems to loom over us, especially those who work within and on behalf of the environment. Yet, it might be difficult to notice the effects of climate change on Putah Creek. A walk along the creek exposes you to native riparian habitat and birds aplenty. Surely, the Chinook salmon return to their historic spawning habitat along Putah Creek could only signal a more healthy and stabilized habitat. The reality is that accelerated climate change is already affecting the nature and people of the Putah Creek Watershed and, more broadly, affecting California. Water resources are greatly threatened by climate change, whether it be a lack of, or an overabundance of water. Rising temperatures increase the evaporation rate in surface waters, like lakes and creeks, but also in crops (meaning irrigated farmlands will require more water). This threatens local water supply like Lake Berryessa, a vital reservoir for Solano County. It puts a strain on all of California’s water resources and stands to threaten millions of people, something we’ve already seen in events like the 2017 Oroville Dam crisis. With hotter and drier summers in California, there’s no denying that weather patterns and temperatures are shifting, and droughts are becoming more frequent, a fact supported by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. An unprecedented fire season, California saw more than four million acres burn between May and October of 2020 — an effect of a drier and hotter climate. The Putah Creek Watershed saw more than its fair share of fire during the summer months with the LNU Complex Fire that burned more than 360,000 acres. Even the winter months can be expected to bring more intense and extreme storms. Intense rainfall and storm events are expected to increase water runoff over the urban and agricultural lands surrounding our water source, carrying any pollution and sediment along with it. The effects are already being felt along Putah Creek with the recent atmospheric river storm that swept through Northern California toppling trees and accelerating erosion in burned regions. With all of this looming over us, the question remains: What do we do about it? In California, efforts are being taken to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency and increase the use of renewable energy resources. Through an October 2020 Executive Order, the Newsom Administration has committed to conserving at least 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030, an initiative dubbed the 30×30 commitment. Not unique to California, the 30×30 concept is often cited by scientists as a proposed solution to keep Earth’s temperature below the fatal 1.5℃ rise that would be a ‘no turning back’ tipping point for the environment. On the federal level, President Biden recently signed a similar 30×30 Executive Order while putting a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling leases in US lands and waters. The 30×30 initiative relies on the conservation of lands that support diverse habitats and serve as natural carbon sequestration areas, such as wetlands and riparian habitats. These habitats play an important role in capturing and storing large quantities of atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, it won’t be enough to simply conserve large percentages of land. Connectivity among habitats is fundamental to allow for species range shift as well as natural migration patterns. Riparian zones like Putah Creek provide important links among natural habitat areas and serve as micro-climates relative to warming environments around them. These conserved landscapes allow species to adapt to climate change and build resilience to Earth’s warming temperatures by providing dispersal corridors and refugia for species. Conserving the habitats of Putah Creek means both protecting and restoring natural areas. Good progress has been made on restoring and maintaining water flow to the creek over the past 30 years of the Council’s existence. Also, collaborative efforts with landowners are ongoing to restore native riparian vegetation and expand riparian habitat and forest. Going forward, creating even larger buffer zones between agricultural lands and creek habitat will be key, not only to limit pollution inflow but to expand native, drought-tolerant vegetated riparian zones. At Putah Creek Council, plans are in the works to expand the Putah Creek Native Plant Nursery to a larger capacity to supply native plants for restoration. The fight against climate change is just beginning, but taking action can be as big as rallying our leaders for swifter action or as small as getting out with Putah Creek Council to plant some California native plants along Putah Creek. Putah Creek Council is a 501(c)(3) environmental organization based in Winters, CA. Visit to sign up for the newsletter, see a calendar of events or support them.

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