Phase III of Putah Creek Nature Park will go to regional public hearing

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Several folks have emailed me recently, commenting that all the fuss over the “wild patch” along Putah Creek must have turned out fine because I’ve been quiet about it. Sadly, I replied to them all, that’s not the case. The situation is in limbo.

DebraDeAngeloW

(I realize it’s early in the column to sidetrack, but I must. Regarding email, my outgoing email went all wonky a couple weeks back. Most of it didn’t go through. Or did it? It’s confusing, as our McNaughton Newspapers email is in a state of transition. So, if you wrote to me and I didn’t reply, please let me know. I always reply to readers, even the cranky ones.)

Anyway. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Here’s the situation with Phase III of the Putah Creek Nature Park: After being on again, off again, rinse and repeat, it’s still up in the air.

Back in June, following a “thank you for sharing that with us, now piss off” public hearing at a Winters City Council meeting, where community members pleaded for flexibility (not cancellation!) with the Phase III plans, everything was full speed ahead to bulldoze that wild patch and redirect the stream as was done in Phase I and II, so that Phase III would also be a narrow glorified gutter, with banks barren of life except for weeds (allegedly because the wrong type of soil was brought in as part of the “restoration” and nothing will grow in it).

So, it was on again. Then a group calling itself the Winters Friends of Putah Creek sought assistance from Davis attorney Don Mooney, who wrote a letter to the City of Winters and the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA), putting the brakes on the project because the proper construction permit for Phase III was never issued by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board (CVFPB), which has the ultimate control over the whole thing. Dan Marino, chief engineer for CVFPB, verified this to me personally, and said the staff that granted SCWA a permit didn’t actually have the authority to do so. And so, it was off again.

Following some firm communication from Mr. Mooney, the CVFPB halted the construction for Phase III literally within days of the planned August groundbreaking, and scheduled a public hearing on the matter for Friday, Oct. 23, at Sacramento City Hall. The CVFPB additionally is researching all the factors for Phase III, and will post a complete public report on their website by Thursday, Oct. 15.

Mr. Marino assured me that public commentary will be fairly considered at the hearing, including soil conditions and wildlife concerns, but noted it must stick to scientific fact. No “I don’t want that project because I just don’t want it” comments will be considered. In other words, keeping the area just because it’s pretty and you like it won’t be considered valid input.

Naturally, at this point in the conversation, I mentioned our extremely rare piebald beaver living in the wild patch, and was amazed that Mr. Marino had heard nothing about it. Of course I filled him in.

Is it scientifically relevant to protect an animal so rare that it scarcely pops up on a Google search except for a Canadian trapper’s journal entry from the 1880s? I believe so. We may never see another animal like that in our lifetimes, and to cavalierly flush it downstream into the arms of a local person rumored to be a proud beaver-trapper seems environmentally irresponsible to me.

Is Mr. Marino sincere? Will all parties in this tangle get a fair shake? Time will tell.

Meanwhile, downstream neighbors in Davis, you may be wondering why you should care about the beaver battle upstream in Winters. Simple: Because we are upstream in Winters. It’s one creek. Alter one part and it affects the whole system, from water flow to wildlife. Driving animals out of their natural habitat into new areas has consequences. Example: Just east of Interstate 505, on property owned by farmer Fred Ramos, deer are coming into his orchard, which sits along Putah Creek.

Although Ramos loves wildlife, and absolutely cherishes his stretch of untouched riparian habitat, he said he was astounded to see deer there. He knows they don’t belong so far down out of the hills, and says they appeared after the creek and bridge construction began upstream in town. He theorized that the deer were driven into the flatlands and couldn’t get back.

You know what follows deer? Mountain lions. They might follow deer, but once they’re nice and comfy along Putah Creek, your dog, or your kid, or even you start to look pretty tasty. Me, I’m all about the wildlife, but I’d prefer that mountain lions stay in the mountains. Like Ramos told me about the deer, “They just don’t belong here!”

Besides photos of deer in his walnut orchards, Ramos also showed me something else: the “restored” area of Putah Creek behind Yolo Housing, next door to his ranch. There was big hoopla when that area was “restored” a few years back, and there were many self-congratulatory pats on the back and photo opps for local politicians. I know, because I covered the event.

I have photos of all the lovely little trees that were planted. What’s there now? A sea of dried oat grass, star thistle and Scottish thistle. And, not one tree. They call that “restoration”? I call it devastation. Stop listening to pretty promises from city officials and SCWA staff, and look with your own eyes at Phase I and II in contrast to the wild patch. Look at the area behind Yolo Housing, compared to Ramos’ untouched riparian wonderland next door. Forget your ears. Listen with your eyes.

My dear downstream neighbors, what happens upstream can flow your way. Destroy plant life, displace wildlife, alter the flow and temperature of the creek … these things have consequences. Our folly is in believing that we know better than Mother Nature about what’s best for the environment.

— Email Debra DeAngelo at debra@wintersexpress.com; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com

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