We like to write about real places with waterfronts, creek fronts, or shorelines interacting with San Francisco Bay and rising sea levels. We’ve chosen these waterways as places to start our explorations, but will be expanding our coverage as we hear more of your stories. Here is a thumbnail of why we think these particular creeks and sloughs are interesting.
DAMON SLOUGH, OAKLAND – The Crossing Fields
- Mouth of Leona and Arroyo Viejo Creeks
- Collects from 3.5 sq. mile Lion Creek Watershed in Oakland Hills
- Enters SF Estuary via San Leandro Bay
- Between Alameda, San Leandro, East Oakland
- Site of Oakland Coliseum and Oracle Arena
For reservoirs in the Oakland Hills, Damon Slough is one of four vital gateways leading into San Francisco Bay. For many of today’s Bay Area residents, it’s that muddy brown ditch you cross over on the way to a Warriors game. While the Warriors recent run of success has brought an influx of newcomers to the lowlands east of San Leandro Bay, the region never quite realized its early development expectations. The Coliseum Complex is now deeply in debt and of its formerly three storied sports franchises, only the Oakland A’s remain. Those living in the area are looking to city and county governments to revitalize the region and develop future-proof infrastructure.
Damon Slough and the surrounding communities have something in common: Often crossed, rarely considered. This vital transportation corridor connects San Jose to Oakland and provides access to route 5 to the east. The Oakland Airport sits a scant few miles south. Essential public transportation lines BART and Amtrak have stations at the Coliseum which, if flooded, could strand commuters and residents alike. As sea level rises, interaction between rising tides and water pouring down from the Oakland hills may bring a lot more attention to Damon Slough.
- Isaac Pearlman
- Kristine Wong
SAN RAFAEL CANAL – A Tale of Two Canals
- Feeds into Upper San Francisco Bay, Lower San Pablo Bay
- Runs through Marin County’s largest city
- Adjacent communities are some of Marin’s highest density populations
- Contaminants remain from years of industrial use
- US Army Corps of Engineers lacked funding to complete a 2011 dredging, leaving shallow canal with higher flood risk
The San Rafael Canal is both a beacon for boaters and a monkey on the back of city planners. The waterway offers beautiful views of hilly Marin County, drawing kayaks and paddlers to make their way out to the creek’s mouth. Terrapin Crossroads, owned by former Grateful Dead member Phil Lesh, sits at the water’s edge and offers a vibrant mix of music and farm-to-table dining. That’s one vision of the Canal, at least.
For many San Rafael Residents, “the Canal” can refer to the waterway itself or the eponymous neighborhood developed around its banks. The neighborhood, predominantly Latin American, is home to Marin’s highest population density and contrasts with the sprawl of single family homes scattered throughout Marin’s hills and valleys. The Canal represents a singular challenge for San Rafael. Heavily reliant on public transportation, shared vehicles, and only a few narrow corridors through which to access the County at large, this community may face isolation if the creek overtakes its banks and cuts the city in two.
- Nate Seltenrich
ALVISO SLOUGH/GUADALUPE RIVER, SAN JOSE
- The Guadalupe River Watershed drains approximately 171 square miles from the eastern Santa Cruz Mountains.
- Alviso Slough is the last reach of the Guadalupe River before it enters San Francisco Bay.
- Miles of natural creek bed: 3; miles of engineered channel: 45.5; miles of underground culvert or storm drain: 265.3
- San Jose, Santa Clara, Campbell, and Los Gatos are the largest cities in the watershed
- Combined watershed population of over 17 million
The Guadalupe River and watershed serves the largest population in the San Francisco Bay Area. Alviso Slough once was home to a fishing and canning community, and despite 20th century commercial development, remnants remain of this history Bay lifestyle including a brine shrimp fishery. The Santa Clara Valley Water District is attempting to restore the slough’s channel width and habitat to pre-1983 conditions to better control for 100-year flood scenarios and eventual sea level rise.
The river’s long history of flooding is exacerbated by concerning levels of mercury still present from legacy mining operations in the Santa Clara Foothills. Small amounts of mercury in water and mud can easily grow into stronger and larger amounts in wetland ecosystems and food webs such as those at the edge of the Bay. While the river is currently dominated by non-natives fish species, nine native species have been observed in last 20 years, including steelhead trout and a small run of Chinook salmon.
- Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Guadalupe River Flood Protection Project – http://www.valleywater.org/Services/GuadalupeRiver.aspx
- South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project – http://www.southbayrestoration.org/
- Ariel Rubissow-Okamoto
SAN FRANCISQUITO CREEK, EAST PALO ALTO
- Forms the boundary between Santa Clara and San Mateo counties
- Watershed size: 47 square miles (37 sq. miles in the hills)
- Channel length: 12.5 miles
- Highest elevation in watershed: 2,188 feet
- Upper watershed: Confluence of Bear Creek and Corte Madera Creek just below Searsville Dam on Stanford University property (Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve).
- Lower watershed: East Palo Alto flatlands
- Population of the biggest cities in the watershed, including East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Menlo Park: 128,856
- Managed by the San Francisquito Joint Powers Authority (includes Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Palo Alto, Santa Clara Valley Water District, San Mateo County Flood Control District)
San Francisquito Creek enters the South San Francisco Bay right at the Palo Alto Golf Course, north of the Palo Alto Airport. What was once an extensive marshland has been greatly reduced to make space for these developments, and as such has put increased flood pressure on neighboring East Palo Alto. The affordable housing communities there, pressured by increased cost of living as land owners pass the costs of flood control on to tenants, are simultaneously some of the most vulnerable to increased flooding and sea level rise and some of the least represented.
Major flood control efforts have been undertaken by the San Francisquito Joint Powers Authority to manage flooding along the creek, but some are concerned this may expose East Palo Alto to greater risk. Youth United for Community Action, a grassroots activist group based in East Palo Alto, received a HUD sustainability grant to work on sea level rise issues facing their community.
- San Francisquito Joint Powers Authority –http://sfcjpa.org/
- Youth United for Community Action – http://youthunited.net/
- Cariad Hayes Thronson
WILDCAT CREEK, SAN PABLO
- Flows through Contra Costa County
- Watershed size: 6,848 acres
- Channel length: 22.22 miles
- Highest elevation in watershed: 1,905’
- Population (estimated): 24,000 (biggest cities in watershed: Richmond and San Pablo, CA)
- Upper watershed: Wildcat Canyon, including Tilden Regional Park, parallel to the Hayward Fault, East Bay Regional Park District.
- Mid watershed: Alvarado Park in Richmond, East Bay Regional Park District property.
- Lower watershed: San Pablo and Richmond flatlands
- In the city of San Pablo, near 23rd Street, the creek flows less than 500’ from San Pablo Creek. A large lagoon used to form between these two creeks.
Wildcat Creek’s proximity to San Pablo Creek as it flows through Richmond and San Pablo has been an historical flood problem for these low income, high population density cities. As such, it has run the gamut of flood control methods, starting in the latter 20th century as the US Army Corps of Engineers attempted to fully enclose, or “straightjacket” the downtown run in a concrete culvert.
Community activists resisted the efforts and ultimately prevailed, resulting in a more natural approach to flood management along wildcat creek. The management efforts are a success story of multifaceted community involvement through the sheer number of groups working to remove invasive species, revegetate, and maintain sediment levels. In 2010, the city of San Pablo received the funding necessary to remove the remaining concrete culverts along Wildcat’s run to the Bay.
SFEP, Earth Team, Urban Tilth, Wildcat San Pablo Creeks watershed council, The Watershed Project, North Richmond Neighborhood House, Contra Costa County Flood Control District, East Bay Regional Park District.
- Daniel McGlynn
- Lisa Owens Viani
- Flows through Contra Costa County
- Watershed size: biggish
- Channel length: 12mi
- Highest elevation: 3,848ft
- Watershed population: 197,000 (Walnut Creek, Concord)
- Upper watershed: Mt. Diablo
- Lower watershed: Marsh, Wetlands, Suisun Bay
Walnut Creek’s flows begin at Mt. Diablo, the highest point in sprawling Contra Costa county. As it gains water on its route north to Suisun Bay, it flows through the populous city of Walnut Creek and Contra Costa’s largest city, Concord. Flooding in the mid 20th century led the US Army Corps of Engineers to restructure the channel, creating walls and causing a gradual sediment build up over the next few decades.
Rather than repeated dredgings of the channel, as the Corps intended, Contra Costa county succeeded in acquiring authority over the flood channel, normally a federal responsibility. As a result, the county will no longer have to dredge the channel. Work can begin restoring the natural habitats where Walnut Creek meets Suisun Bay and new flood control plans are in the works.
- Flood Control 2.0 – http://www.sfei.org/flood-control-20
- Adapting to Rising Tides – http://www.adaptingtorisingtides.org/