What we do
Urban Creeks Council builds projects and programs that unite communities around their streams. We build places that increase urban aesthetics, restore wildlife habitat, and make urban communities better places to live. We empower communities to restore and protect their streams by employing volunteer power to construct and manage native riparian habitats. We help citizens learn about ecosystems and children learn how to care for plants. Through our programs, we leverage broad and effective partnerships to help cities and other agencies responsibly manage their natural resources. Our current program areas include the Livermore-Amador Valley and the lower Wildcat Creek watershed in Richmond.
With our 30-year history of engagement rooted in science, we transform neglected, degraded waterways back into living streams. We help agencies to make better restoration and management decisions through science-based research and help them accomplish resource management goals through on-the-ground fieldwork. Through our Restoration Apprenticeship Program, we introduce young people to restoration, teach them ecological concepts and technical field techniques, and build their leadership skills through our volunteer program.
Scholarly articles often discuss the disparity between scientific research and on-the-ground practical work. A great many restoration projects are not informed by science, and end up falling short of their original goals. UCC focuses on ongoing monitoring and management to ensure that restoration sites reach their intended ecological potential and continue to provide critical ecosystem functions.
Restoration ecology is a continuously evolving and exciting discipline. There is so much to learn about how ecosystems function and how human-caused damage can be repaired. We’re increasingly realizing, and starting to be able to quantify, just how much our species relies on “ecosystem services”—such as clean air, fresh water, and pollination of our food—that nature provides us for free. Some of these services are impossible to recreate by human constructions—and those that are, invariably can be built only at great cost. Therefore, it is more effective to invest in our native ecosystems and their processes than to continue to destroy them in the name of progress. Watershed restoration is one of the ways in which we can increase the value of ecosystem services to our society. By planting native trees, water quality is improved, habitat is created, and the number of niches for native organisms is greatly increased. These all contribute to the creation of ecosystem services. If you breathe, drink water, garden, or appreciate the sight of a beautiful old tree or the sound of birdsong, you are benefiting from ecosystem services!
Our science programs include:
BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES
We are continuously experimenting with new techniques and monitoring our sites to understand how to most effectively restore plant communities. Value for investment is important to funders, and we focus on finding the most effective restoration techniques for that investment to ensure that limited funds are well-used. For example, many researchers have experimented with planting oaks from acorns instead of large container sizes. In addition to allowing local oak genotypes to be used on project sites, planting from acorns is extremely cost-effective- and results in better-developed, more robust trees.
RIPARIAN VEGETATION REFERENCE PROGRAM (RiVR)
Although many restoration projects use some form of reference community, reference information is often inappropriately used — for example, using upper-watershed reference sites for lower-watershed restoration projects. In cooperation with UC Berkeley, UCC began in 2013 to develop a set of reference metrics based on dozens of reference sites from the CRAM and SWAMP programs. With data collected from these undisturbed reference sites, we can define quantifiable benchmarks for restoration vegetation communities. This allows us to estimate plant community trajectories and to know when the restoration site has reached a reference-level state—something that is rarely if ever done in restoration. For more information on the RiVR program, contact [email protected].
In partnership with local researchers, UCC is developing ecological indices that help us quantify and understand the health of native riparian habitats through the use of biotic indicators. UCC has developed new indices for riparian forest communities and freshwater fishes.
UCC partners with local landowners and agencies to undertake watershed-scale, multiple-index ecological assessments. We combine the strengths of agency partners, scientists, and our staff ecologists to produce scientifically defensible, accurate studies that help our partners understand and better manage their ecological resources.
UCC is dedicated to preserving California’s ecological heritage. Many of our iconic riparian landscapes are threatened by genetic contamination from exotic hybrids in addition to habitat destruction. We’re researching ways to conserve species like the native Western sycamore (Platanus racemosa), the dominant component of the globally and state-endangered habitat type sycamore-alluvial woodland.
A big part of advancing the science and practice of restoration is sharing knowledge and lessons learned with others. In cooperation with Friends of Five Creeks, UCC hosts a Restoration Practitioners’ group on Meetup. Sign up and participate here!
Publications & Conferences
Van Dam, K. “What is a Reference Forest? Defining Reference Condition for Riparian Forests in California.” 11th Biennial State of the Estuary Conference. Oakland, CA. 29 October 2013. Poster Session.
Van Dam, K. “Reference Condition in Riparian Forests: What Does It Look Like and How Can We Achieve It?” San Francisco Bay Joint Venture Meeting. Oakland, CA. 20 September 2013. Presentation.
Van Dam, K. Same Time, Different Place: Deriving Reference Metrics for Riparian Vegetation From Contemporary Analog Reference Sites. University of California, Berkeley. 2013.
In cooperation with the UC Berkeley department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, UCC pioneered a new method of quantifying forest characteristics to set more effective goals for restoration (RiVR). This protocol is in ongoing development.
View the original Master’s thesis.
View a Powerpoint presentation of current RiVR findings.
Stevens, P. “Nature and the City: What Good is Urban Conservation?” New York Academy of Sciences. New York, NY. 16 April 2012. Panel Discussion.
Stevens, P. “Urban Conservation: The Rules Are Different Here.” Cool Green Science. The Nature Conservancy. 03 March 2011.
News & Mentions
Miller, J. Rebooting Urban Watersheds. High Country News. 01 June 2009.
Dean, C. Follow the Silt. The New York Times. 24 June 2008.
Redding, K. Water Warriors: Urban Creeks Council Quietly Fights to Bring Streams to Light. San Francisco Chronicle. 04 April 2003.
Wildcat Creek Restoration Action Plan (WRAP) | 2010
The Wildcat San Pablo Watershed Restoration Action Plan (WRAP) was developed to identify and prioritize restoration projects that provide benefits such as flood damage reduction, and increased habitat and water quality in the Wildcat Creek and San Pablo Creek watersheds. Project outcomes include the final Wildcat-San Pablo WRAP, two restoration projects on Wildcat Creek at Church Lane and Rumrill Boulevard, and an education program for local students. The WRAP report was developed through a team of local experts, and contains studies such as a fish habitat and population survey, geomorphic survey, hydraulic analysis of the storm drain network, providing a detailed analysis of existing conditions and recommendations for future restoration projects. Between the two restoration projects, 710 linear feet of stream channel was restored.
Rheem Creek at Contra Costa College | 2008
The Rheem Creek Habitat Restoration and Watershed Education project is the culmination of years of engagement with the Rheem Creek watershed and its residents. Together with the Natural Heritage Institute, UCC helped facilitate the Rheem Creek Vision Plan, a community visioning and watershed assessment project that helped prioritize projects in the watershed. Funded by the State Coastal Conservancy, Nature Restoration Trust and Rose Foundation, among others, the project had two main components: the revegetation of 500 feet of stream channel on the Contra Costa College campus and a student intern program that employed student-interns in an environmental education program.
Construction occurred in October 2008. Civicorps crews removed 1/2 an acre of invasive ivy from the stream channel, installed erosion control blankets and straw wattles and spread native grass seed over the soil. Our first volunteer day was in early November, with students from Kennedy High School led by EarthTeam.
Codornices Creek Watershed Restoration Action Plan, Phase II | 2008
This project seeks to improve habitat and migration for threatened steelhead/rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in Codornices Creek through watershed planning, in-the-ground projects, and community involvement and education. The first phase of this project was conducted from 2001-2004 and developed the Codornices Creek Watershed Restoration Action Plan (2004). Data collected on existing water quality and stream conditions was used to identify priority projects that would improve habitat and stream health. Conceptual designs developed for the identified priority projects were developed and modeled by FarWest Restoration Engineering to analyze potential hydraulic impacts. The results of this work include step pools, bank stabilization, removing fish passage barriers, planting native plants, and giving public information sessions about the work done to the general public. Details are presented in a 2005 report.
This project was funded by CALFED Watershed Program and CA State Water. The Urban Creeks Council was aided in this collaborative effort by some of the region’s top stream and salmonid experts, including watershed biologist Bill Kier (Kier Associates), water quality restoration expert Bob Coats (Hydroikos), FarWest Restoration Engineering, Waterways Restoration Institute, and local environmental planner Juliet Lamont. The National Marine Fisheries Service, California Department of Fish and Game, S.F. Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, City of Berkeley, and City of Albany are cooperating entities on this project, as are Saint Mary’s College High School and the local organizations Codornices Creek Watershed Council, Friends of Five Creeks and the Live Oak Codornices Creek Neighborhood Association (LOCCNA).
Wildcat Creek at Rumrill Blvd | 2006
In fall 2006, UCC implemented the first phase of a major restoration project on Wildcat Creek in the City of San Pablo. This 500-foot project included realigning the channel to increase sinuosity, re-establishing a functioning floodplain, and excavating excess sediment from the active channel. With assistance from the East Bay Conservation Corps and volunteer students from Richmond High School, UCC will continue to revegetate the site with native riparian plants.
This project is part of the Wildcat-San Pablo Creeks Watershed Restoration Action Plan and Priority Projects (WCSP-WRAPP), the main goal of which is to develop a community- and City-supported plan to reduce flood damages in the City of San Pablo while preserving the natural qualities of its creeks. Our team of East Bay water experts is completing its assessment of existing physical, hydrologic, and biological conditions along Wildcat Creek.
Wildcat Creek at Church Lane, San Pablo | 2005
Starting in the summer of 2006, UCC partnered with the City of San Pablo to remove failed walls and non-native species from unstable and eroding banks. A cross-vane weir was constructed in the channel to redirect energy to the center of the channel instead of the banks, to reduce erosion and to provide pool habitat for fish and other fauna. The banks were stabilized with willow and cottonwood cuttings, native grasses and wildflowers, and brush layering and brush mattress soil bioengineering techniques. This project not only reduced erosion, but also created important habitat for birds and the population of rainbow trout/steelhead in Wildcat Creek.
This project also beautified downtown San Pablo, with benefits for local businesses and residents. The Senior Center on the left bank enjoys a new pathway planted with native plants and with new viewpoints to the creek with benches, and a mural is painted on the culvert wall upstream.
Pinole Creek Watershed Vision Plan | 2004
In 2004 Urban Creeks Council, with the funding of the Coastal Conservancy, Pinole Redevelopment Agency, Contra Costa Flood Control District, and Friends of Pinole Creek Watershed, collaborated with the community through a consensus-based community process to develop the Pinole Creek Watershed Vision, discussing solutions to enhance water quality, habitat, education opportunities, private property regulations, development and design, and flood management. The outcome was a plan outlining action roles to achieve a healthy creek ideal for habitation and educational purposes. The report includes detailed analysis on the watershed components, planning process, results, and opportunities and constraints.
Alhambra Creek at Martinez Adult Education | 2004
In 2004 Urban Creeks Council worked with City of Martinez, Martinez Unified School District, Friends of Alhambra Creek, and the Alhambra Creek Watershed Planning Group to transform two dysfunctional open storm water drainages that caused flooding and bank erosion into vegetative swales, removed invasive species, and installed an equilibrium channel. Not only did this fix drainage problems, establish a more natural riparian corridor, protect native steelhead/rainbow trout populations, and stabilize the creek beds, but also provided outdoor education opportunities to the Martinez Public Schools. The report developed by local experts details geomorphology, revegetation, channel geometry, soil bioengineering, and environmental education. The project was funded by the Department of Water Resources Urban Streams Restoration Program, and ended in 2004. The project is maintained through the Martinez Unified School District.
Peralta Creek at Cesar Chavez Park, Oakland | 2003
In May 2002 Urban Creeks Council partnered with the City of Oakland Watershed Improvement Program and Unity Council with the objective to establish an efficient natural channel, improve the riparian habitat, maintain flood storage capacity, and enhance aesthetics and safe public accessibility to Peralta Creek, at Cesar Chavez Park.
The installation of the design in summer 2003 removed a faulty and dangerous bypass culvert, re-graded the banks, replaced an old bridge for a safer, crime-deterrent design, and removed extensive non-native vegetation such as Acacia and Eucalyptus trees. There is now a decomposed-granite path running next to the creek, willow trees growing along the toe of the banks, and native grasses and wildflowers blooming throughout. The native species that have been spotted since the project was installed include Pacific Chorus Frogs, white egrets, mallards, and raptors.
Wildcat Creek at Tilden Golf Course, Berkeley | 2003
In fall-winter 2002, UCC collaborated on the restoration of a 700 foot stretch of Wildcat Creek at the Tilden Golf Course. UCC performed the duties of project coordinator, project management, and supervision for implementing the dam removal and channel redesign. The project’s restoration design was provided by the Waterways Restoration Institute, a sister nonprofit to UCC. Six failing concrete check dams were removed along the reach, and the banks were restabilized to a 2:1 slope. Labor was provided by the East Bay Conservation Corps, and partners included Tilden Golf Course and Park staff, the East Bay Regional Parks District, and the American Golf Corporation. Funding provided by the Department of Water Resources.
Baxter Creek at Booker T. Anderson Park, Richmond | 2000
In 2000, a 900-lineal-foot reach of degraded stream flowing through a well-used city park was restored by regrading the channel and increasing its sinuosity. The banks were revegetated using native willow and cottonwood cuttings and close to 100 native trees and shrubs from container stock. Labor was provided by the East Bay Conservation Corps, under the supervision of UCC. (Funded by CA Department of Water Resources, Urban Stream Restoration Program; CA Coastal Conservancy; San Francisco Foundation)
Wildcat Creek at 23rd Street, San Pablo | 2000
In 2000, a 350-lineal-foot section of degraded stream was restored, and failing concrete banks were stabilized using soil-bioengineering techniques (brush layering). Native riparian trees, willows, and cottonwood cuttings were planted, and a trail was graded along one bank. Labor was provided by the East Bay Conservation Corps, under the supervision of UCC. (Funded by CA Department of Water Resources, Urban Stream Restoration Program)
Lower Wildcat Creek, North Richmond | 2000
As the area surrounding Wildcat Creek becomes increasingly urbanized, the watershed looses native vegetation and accumulates sediment, groundwater, and polluted runoff from residential development thus resulting in flooding, poor water and soil quality, and compromised habitat for native fish, birds, and rodents.
In 2000, an alternative flood-control channel was reconfigured by deepening the existing low-flow channel and restoring proper functioning to 5000 feet of stream and greatly reducing flooding. The banks were replanted with native willows and cottonwood to stabilize banks and promote habitat. Labor was provided by the East Bay Conservation Corps, under the supervision of UCC.
Village Creek, Albany | 1998
In 1998, approximately 900 lineal feet of creek was daylighted (removed from an underground pipe and brought above ground) and planted with native willow, cottonwood, dogwood, and ninebark cuttings as well as alders, big leaf maple, and other native trees and shrubs from container stock. Labor was provided by the East Bay Conservation Corps, under the supervision of UCC.
Upper Baxter Creek at Poinsett Park, El Cerrito | 1996
In 1996, a 250-lineal-foot reach of creek was daylighted as an alternative to an expensive storm drain repair project. Due to the site’s steep slopes, the creek was designed to have a “step/pool” structure. It was planted with native willow, dogwood, and currant cuttings, as well as alders, big leaf maples, and other native trees. Labor was provided by the East Bay Conservation Corps, under the supervision of UCC. This project was funded by CA Department of Water Resources, Urban Stream Restoration Program.
Blackberry Creek, Thousand Oaks School, Berkeley | 1998
In 1995, a 250-foot reach of creek was daylighted at Thousand Oaks School, turning an asphalt lot into a well-used outdoor science classroom. The creek was planted with native willows, dogwod, alders, and wild rose. Labor was provided by the East Bay Conservation Corps, under the supervision of UCC. (Funded by CA Department of Water Resources, Urban Stream Restoration Program)