Many of the characteristics that make the Tri-Valley such a wonderful place for residents and businesses are obvious. They include more than 300 days of sunshine every year, excellent schools, and beautiful scenery. Other elements that contribute to the region’s high quality of life are more subtle. They include a commitment to responsible stewardship of natural resources, regional collaboration, and enthusiastic volunteers.
In October, two local organizations were recognized for environmental work that draws on those three qualities. The Living Arroyos and Tri-Valley Adopt a Creek Spot programs were honored for their efforts to restore and beautify local waterways by the California Stormwater Quality Association (CASQA), which gave both groups the statewide Outstanding Sustainable Stormwater Program Award. Stormwater runoff can be a threat to clean water. The mission of the CASQA Awards Program is to advance the stormwater quality management profession by identifying and recognizing exemplary leadership, outstanding projects, activities, and contributions to the field of stormwater quality management.
First, a bit of background. The National Ocean Service defines watershed as the land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams, and rivers and, ultimately, to reservoirs, bays, and oceans. “As water runs over and through the watershed, it picks up and carries contaminants and soil,” notes the National Ocean Service. “If untreated, these pollutants wash directly into waterways carried by runoff from rain and snowmelt. These contaminants can infiltrate groundwater and concentrate in streams and rivers, ultimately being carried down the watershed and into the ocean.”
The health of the 660-square-mile Alameda Creek Watershed, the largest watershed in the Bay Area, is critically important to the Tri-Valley. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, healthy watersheds improve a region’s quality of life by improving water quality. Natural landscapes and floodplains filter pollutants, promote nutrient cycling, and help retain sediment. Watersheds with intact natural land cover and soil resources can help offset greenhouse gas emissions by sequestering carbon. Healthy watersheds also reduce the risk of invasive species colonization because naturally functioning ecosystems are more resilient and favor indigenous species.
Those benefits, while important, are not the only ones, according to the EPA. “Protecting healthy watersheds can reduce capital costs for water treatment plants and reduce damages to property and infrastructure due to flooding, thereby avoiding future costs. Additionally, protecting healthy watersheds can generate revenue through property value premiums, recreation, and tourism.”
The Living Arroyos program is an example of the many vital Tri-Valley programs that work to protect the region’s natural resources. Created in 2013, the City of Dublin recently joined this multi-agency collaboration of the City of Livermore, Livermore Area Park and Recreation District (LARPD), the City of Pleasanton, and Zone 7 Water Agency.
The Living Arroyos collaboration focuses on important work to enhance local streams in the Livermore-Amador Valley. The program area boundary is the city limits of Dublin, Pleasanton, and Livermore, and includes the unincorporated lands around the Chain of Lakes. Program activities focus on the more than 45 miles of streams managed by the agency partners.
Why focus on local streams or arroyos, water-carved channels? Because “streams provide many benefits to the people who live in the area,” according to the Living Arroyos program. “They are an integral part of the community’s water supply system, help protect neighborhoods from flooding, and help counteract pollution. Still, our arroyos can be so much more. The vision behind Living Arroyos is that our urban streams can be beautiful, natural spaces that provide habitat for an abundance of native plants and wildlife.”
By 2020, 350 community volunteers had put in nearly 1,400 hours of work to protect local streams. That work has included planting nearly 7,000 trees, seeding grass, removing nearly 55,000 gallons of weeds, mulching, and collecting trash. Last year, volunteers removed a record 4,315 gallons of weeds and planted native vegetation as part of the program’s riparian restoration efforts. In addition to welcoming volunteers, the program hires college students and young professionals as interns, which gives them the opportunity to learn hands-on stream management techniques.
The Adopt a Creek Spot program was launched in 2012, a year before the Living Arroyos program. Adopt a Creek Spot encourages residents, businesses, and other organizations to help improve water quality and aquatic habitat by removing trash and litter along an “adopted” neighborhood creek. Trash removal helps improve the beauty of local neighborhoods while reducing trash loads from the municipal storm sewer system. This work reduces urban runoff pollution to storm drains and creeks.
According to Adopt a Creek Spot, approximately 75 gallons of trash a day flows into the San Francisco Bay from the City of Livermore alone. “Much of the trash in the Bay washes into the Pacific Ocean where it contributes to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” notes the organization. “Trash not only takes a toll on quality of life, property values, and housing prices, it also endangers plant, fish and wildlife populations, and habitat.”
In addition to fighting water pollution, the program also promotes community stewardship of creeks and provides local watershed educational opportunities. Partners of Adopt a Creek Spot include the City of Livermore Water Resources Division, LARPD, the City of Pleasanton, Living Arroyos, the Alameda County Watershed Forum, the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District, and Zone 7 Water Agency.
"What makes our programs stand out is the level of community engagement in the stewardship of our natural resources," according to Joseph Steelman, who works for the City of Livermore and is Program Coordinator for both Living Arroyos and Adopt a Creek Spot. "Whether it is through our public volunteer events or our internship program, we are providing avenues for people to learn about and get involved in improving their watershed. I am proud of what we have accomplished in the past eight years and the community that has grown up around this work."
For more information about the California Stormwater Quality Association, please visit www.casqa.org.
For more information about the Living Arroyos program, please visit www.livingarroyos.org.
For more information about the Adopt a Creek Spot program, please visit www.trivalleycreeks.org.