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Open Space and Habitat Commission visits new City open space area

IMG_5897On Saturday, the Open Space and Habitat Commission had an officially noticed "meeting" – really, a stroll through the woods – on City-owned land to the west of the Putah Creek South Fork Preserve.  This land, approximately 10 acres in total, was purchased with Open Space funds in 2017 with the goal of providing more open space access for Davisites.  Most of the trail is already there (recently cleared by volunteers); the City plans to make small improvements like signage, removal of invasive plants, etc.

This post is my unofficial impression of our morning as a commission member, as documented through my phone camera.  It was a lovely hike and I hope you enjoy these pictures from the City's "backyard," which you can visit yourself if you care to.

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Black walnut trees from an old orchard remain; new valley oaks self-recruit
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The start of the path
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The white mark shows how high the water got this past winter
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Lots of opportunities to see the south fork of Putah Creek from the trail

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Many branches and trunks were washed up this past winter

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Huge base on this black walnut tree
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Looking up from that base

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Corbicula fluminea ("Asian clam"), I believe
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Corbicula fluminea up close

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Doing its job holding the bank together

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Huge cottonwood
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Top of cottonwood
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Another beautiful old tree
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And look! We've been near farmland the whole time (looking west)
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Looking east
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The path back

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Comments

Todd Edelman

This is very nice.

Did Putah Creek formerly only have one route - through what's now the Arboretum and the border or southern border area of Davis before it diffuses into the current County area west of the Bypass, or was there always a South Fork?

If there was not a South Fork prior to Davis, wouldn't a sort of "pure" restoration divert everything back to the current Arboretum-south border, obviously risking flooding in not even so wet winters? I assume "Yes, everyone knows that!".

Is there a way to have the South Fork be a dynamic rather than permanent back-up or diversion? In other words, in dry years the South Fork would get all of the water coming west, the Arboretum lakes would remain as would the Putah (Dry) Creek at the south edge of Davis.... but at a certain point could water get reverse-diverted through the lakes and the main fork again, keeping in mind the current flood control purposes of the Dry section? There's still not really anything built on this old, um, right-of-way, though I realize that e.g. a bridge would need to built for the Equestrian Center area, I think a tunnel under the railway and I-80, and protection for the Greenway, etc.

My understanding is that the Arboretum water bodies are actually drained and cleaned out regularly - would there be too much pollution here to risk water flowing through to the east?

So what would be great is the outcome of all of this: A seasonal water feature of Davis in part of the ugly, anti-nature Davis Commons parking lot at the bend in the old Creek path, and even something into Downtown - partly underground - into the current E St Parking Lot, which will be a town square? (In old contour maps there was a kind of low, wet area extending to the northeast from the old Creek route, directly from the corner of 2nd and E to the corner of 3rd and F.)

It would be very well-engineered to eliminate the possibility of flooding in built-up areas and as such would be an expert and tourist draw.

Roberta L. Millstein

Assuming we had the money (a big "if") and were in a position to do a project like this (another big "if"), I'm not sure there would be much sentiment for it. Just to pick one aspect, I don't think most would be too happy with the Arboretum lakes being dry during some parts of the year.

Ron O

I'm also curious, as to whether or not this fork of the creek is "natural". If not, did those trees grow up since the creek was diverted?

I've also wondered if the primary/original route through the arboretum could be improved, but I suspect it would be challenging and costly.

Any additional links/information regarding the new open space would be appreciated.

Todd Edelman

Hi. The Arboretum water bodies would stay at similar level to now.

I thought that your "sentiment" was "sediment".

It would be lovely in wet winters. Another idea is to simply add another lake in the former parking lot.

If the South Fork is a result of the diversion it might be difficult, unwise etc to have its winter level lowered, as some species might have established themselves there.

How much water from Putah is used for agriculture?

Eileen Samitz

Roberta,

Thanks much for sharing this information and for these terrific and inviting photos. I, for one did not know about this little gem of an area for a nearby walk. Might you be able to put up a mini map of where it is and how one would get to it? I imagine that this is a haven for various birds and other wildlife.

Much thanks again for this article and so many other informative articles you have authored and others on the Davisite.

Roberta L. Millstein

I am not the best person to ask about the history of Putah Creek (but there is a lot out there if you Google) or how much agriculture currently relies on it (quite a bit, I think). My understanding is that efforts to divert the creek south because of the flooding began in the late 1800s.

If you know where the Putah Creek South Fork Preserve is (also a great place to take a walk/hike), the area depicted in my post is literally right across the street. To get to the Putah Creek South Fork Preserve, go south on Mace Blvd -- it's about two miles from where Chiles intersects with Mace. The existing preserve is on the left side of Mace; the new property is on the right side.

Unfortunately, the parking lot cannot currently be used, but you can park alongside the road, or, of course, bike there.

Nancy Price

In a different direction- isn’t there some old water source over by Nishi that was referred to during those discussions of building at that site?

Rick Entrikin

Thanks for the report & great photos, Roberta. Did Open Space folks happen to discuss any ideas about how to maintain the West side trails year-to-year? The newly-purchased area is a beautiful addition to the City's Open Space inventory, but it seems that the trails will wash-out or otherwise be covered with debris, rendering them unusable, every rainy season.

I do know that the Winters-based, Putah Creek Council is working with the City of Davis, in some capacity, on the Preserve, but don't know the details. PCC did provide (with the City) a tour of South Fork Preserve (East side only) on March 23 and recently conducted a two-day cleanup of west-side trails.

In terms of Arboretum waters, UC Davis recently completed Phase I of a three-phase transformation. That phase started at "the Shovels" end, and includes a weir and water-circulation pumps. Latter phases will extend to the West, culminating in a wetlands habitat, with observation deck at what is now the "big bowl" of water at the Equestrian Center end of the Arboretum. (Andrew Fulks is leading that campus project.)

Two more notes on water:

(1) The Arboretum "lakes" are actually one big pond (or "bathtub"). Some incoming water is supplied from the campus and the rest is rainwater. The repeated Summer die-offs of fish from stagnation were a major impetus for the ongoing, three-phase transformation.

(2) Putah Creek water (other than rain run-off) is from Lake Berryessa, through controlled releases (except when the Glory Hole overflows). The water volumes are regulated by agreement between Solano County and a coalition of environmental (mainly Putah Creek Council, I believe) and agricultural interests.

This collaborative effort has been a spectacular success, with salmon spawning as far downstream from Monticello Dam as the South Fork Preserve! Therefore, I suspect Roberta is right: any attempt to divert water from the South Fork would likely be met with strong resistance.

Todd Edelman

Thanks, Rick! Mine was just a wild concept, I fully admit. I'd still like to see the feasibility of another pond in the space used for temporary storage of private motor vehicles...

Roberta L. Millstein

I'm glad you liked the photos, Rick, and thanks for the helpful info.

Good question about maintenance. I can't remember if we've discussed that specifically at any point, but I believe that the staff member who maintains our other open spaces will have primary responsibility, and I expect that the City will continue to welcome volunteer help when necessary.

It seemed to me that the trail did not wash out so much as get covered with tree debris, and that's what the volunteers cleared. This year, of course, brought quite a bit of tree debris. I imagine that other, less rainy years will require much less maintenance.

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