Notes from the Field: Watershed

Redwood Creek
Redwood Regional Park in Oakland. Photo by Stephen Schiller

I recently went on a hike in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland.  It was a beautiful sunny day and as I strolled through the forest along Redwood Creek the canopy above sheltered me from the sun.  As I listened to a Great Horned Owl hooting, I took a moment to sit on a massive redwood stump, a reminder of the ancient old growth forests that once covered the hills surrounding the Bay. A sign on the trail spoke of the bygone era of an abundant and thriving logging industry.  As people flooded the Bay Area during the gold rush these forested hills became more valuable than gold.  The giant stands of Redwoods were reduced to a sea of stumps and the creek that was their lifeblood was choked and eroded.

But, this place seemed to be almost whole again.   The redwoods once again tower overhead, and moss covered Bay Laurel and Madrone held their own in the depths of this unique ecosystem.   The ever present streams rhythmic babble made me realize how lucky I am to live in such a unique and wonderful place.

This creek was especially unique; special enough to preserve and protect.  Redwood Creek happens to be at the headwaters of watershed that spreads itself across much of Oakland and San Leandro. In our zeal to provide for our community we exploited another, one which we were deeply tied to.  This is lifeblood of a whole region. Its capillary streams coursing through the many canyons and gullies until they meet at the Bay.  There are many watersheds that descend off the hills and mountains surrounding the bay and all of them connect to the San Francisco Bay.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]We are linked to each other by the watershed whether we know it or not. [/quote] These smaller watersheds aggregate together to become larger ones and the largest and most important one is San Francisco Bay-Delta Watershed.  This watershed covers over 75,000 miles and contains the largest estuary on the west coast of the Americas.  At least 40% of all of California’s water comes through the Delta and out the Golden Gate.   This watershed brings water from the Cascade Mountains to the north, the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the east, and the Coast Mountains to the west.  The mighty Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers drain the whole central valley soaking the rich fertile ground with water.

Without it we would not have a Bay to call home.  The Delta provides 25 million Californians with drinking water and irrigates 7,000 miles of agricultural land.  Animals thrive in the abundance that a healthy watershed provides.  Two thirds of California’s salmon population and half of the state’s Pacific Flyway migratory birds rely on the region’s wetlands.

The Bay Area is home to over 7 million people and most of our watersheds have been managed in a way that hides their true value from the public.  Most streams and creeks are now underground hidden away as if they don’t exist.  For most, our relationship with this system is what comes out of the faucet or hose. With something as important and precious as water, we have done a good job of disconnecting ourselves from it.  Out of sight out of mind.  We are linked to each other by the watershed whether we know it or not. When someone pollutes a stream in the mountains that pollution affects us all.  Those storm drains that are on every corner in our neighborhoods bring water to the Bay.  Any trash or harmful chemicals that are dumped in our community will find its way into our Bay.

Our watersheds connect people together, giving us an opportunity to share responsibility with one another.  Save The Bay was founded on these principles and its members and volunteers continue to make positive change as we work together.  From the hills to the marshes I encourage everyone go out and explore your community’s watershed.

– Jack States, Restoration Projects Team Leader