Stream surgery in Dimond Canyon

Last week was a treat, as the long-awaited start of the annual rains cleared away the thick smoke from the distant Camp Fire. On Tuesday, the air still smoky, I took an afternoon to check in on a few of our streams at their dry-season minimum. Then on Saturday I came back. In Dimond Canyon Park, the new improved Sausal Creek was especially impressive in its reawakening.

In truth, it was never asleep. We did cosmetic surgery on it without anesthesia. Now, as the rainy season proceeds, we need to watch the bandages.

Sausal Creek has had a lot of work done in Dimond Park. The streambed in the park proper, west of the swimming pool, was cleaned out in 2015 and planted in willows — fitting for a creek of its name. In just two rainy seasons, they’ve grown at a prodigious rate.

Now the stream is mostly hidden, but that’s good. To be pleasing for fish, the water needs shade — that keeps the water cool, able to hold more oxygen — and the new thicket keeps out most of the people and their dogs (although I did see a housecat perched on the rocks).

On Tuesday there was precious little water there. It was like everything was holding its breath.

Saturday I could hear the water long before I saw it. A wonderful sound. Even the sterile new section, built after daylighting a stretch that was culverted in 1952, felt like it was ready to burgeon.

Here, just downstream from El Centro Avenue, I could walk up the streambed on Tuesday. . .

. . . but not on Saturday.

The latest surgery is higher up the stream, in Dimond Canyon proper. It involves three watershed wounds, carved by undesirable runoff from the streets around the canyon. Too much sediment washes into the creek for the rainbow trout who live there (I had no idea they’d survived all this time).

Remediating the effects of heavy runoff isn’t a job done by eyeball with a shovel and wheelbarrow. It’s work that calls for heavy equipment, done with surgical care and designed by geotechnical pros. It’s supposed to last as long as the land itself. It’s supposed to heal over with real vegetation and fool the wildlife.

At this site, the object is to keep runoff from carving a gully down the slope. When runoff is modest, it can soak through the channels of stones at the top left and trickle downhill gradually. In a heavier rainstorm, the channels will guide the water aside instead of dumping it all straight down.

The ground is covered with geofabric, a coarse burlap, and strewn with seeds ready to sprout and offer the slope more protection. More substantial native plants, like dogwood, will be added.

The most ambitious part of the project gave a makeover to a long gully reaching the creek from a street drain on San Luis Avenue. This is just the bottom end, below the Old Cañon Trail.

It was ugly. Now it’s raw — the work was finished in September. But it held up fine during last week’s rain, so far so good. The snag of tree roots in the front is meant to be there; dead wood is part of a thriving ecosystem. More shrubs will go along the streambanks where the stakes are.

This site is where the most hard-core work was done. A storm drain from the end of Benevides Avenue unavoidably dumps a lot of water here, so the site is strongly fortified without turning it into concrete.

The plastic pipe directs the runoff onto an energy-dispersing boulder pile. The pipe can be repaired as needed without tearing up the rest of the slope. And if you look closely you’ll see thin sticks standing around the outlet. Those whips are going to grow into trees.

On Saturday this too was a cheerful scene. Some of the whips are already showing leaves.

Over the next few years, let’s watch as the creekside patiently recovers. News, background info and opportunities for the public to help are all at sausalcreek.org.

3 Responses to “Stream surgery in Dimond Canyon”

  1. theoaklandraiders Says:

    Awesome!

  2. Naomi Schiff Says:

    A lovely post! So smart to take photos just before the rain.

  3. deb3901 Says:

    Walked along the creek in Dimond Park Friday morning and was delighted by the sights and sounds! It’s interesting reading about the methods used for its restoration.

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