Creek project will help endangered fish run free | August 9, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 9, 2013

Creek project will help endangered fish run free

San Francisquito Creek work will redirect water flow so trout can migrate

by Sue Dremann

Steelhead trout are expected to be able to swim more easily between the Searsville Dam and the San Francisco Bay after a low-lying concrete slab is removed from San Francisquito Creek this month.

The $285,900 Bonde Weir Fish Passage Improvement Project will remove the barrier that's more than 50 years old and lies on the creek bottom in El Palo Alto Park at Palo Alto's border with Menlo Park.

The 45-foot-wide barrier, called a weir, has made it difficult for fish to travel along the creek because it's altered and sometimes impeded the water current, according to the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District, which is implementing the project.

San Francisquito Creek hosts one of the last remaining wild steelhead trout populations in the Bay Area, according to researchers. In 2004, the Steelhead Task Force of the San Francisquito Watershed Council rated replacement of the weir as "high," according to a California Coastal Conservancy June 2013 report.

The weir causes fish to get trapped in late winter and early spring as they try to travel up and down the creek. Either the trout get stuck upstream of the weir because there's not enough water to flow over it, or water flows sheet-like over the weir but without sufficient depth.

Young fish that can't move downstream to more favorable habitats can die, according to the California Coastal Conservancy report.

Steelhead use creek areas above the weir to lay their eggs and spawn and then travel to spots with more abundant food as they mature, according to a Resource Conservation District report.

The weir was originally built to protect the base of a 25-foot-high retaining wall, which supports the railroad bridge and protects the historic El Palo Alto redwood. But the weir has become worn down by water and debris over the decades and is no longer structurally sound.

In its place will be three, V-shaped rock-boulder weirs 20 feet upstream of the existing weir and 80 feet below, according to Joseph Issel, Resource Conservation District conservation project coordinator. Made of natural streambed materials, the new weirs will direct the water so the fish can move throughout the 40-mile channel from Searsville Dam to the bay.

Strategically placed groups of boulders will help slow the water flow and create shelters for the fish, Issel said.

The project also includes repairs to the concrete retaining wall and a culvert.

Work to remove the current weir could begin on Monday, Aug. 12, Issel said. The replacement should be completed in four to eight weeks.

A bike path will be closed to pedestrians and cyclists when construction equipment is being moved into the area. A detour will be available using the Willow Road pedestrian bridge.

The project is taking place after nearly a decade of false starts. An early design to rebuild the weir was deemed too expensive and involved too many landowners. The California Department of Fish and Game rejected a simpler plan to add a fish ladder in 2008. The current design was a collaboration between the Resource Conservation District, Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The project won't cause more flooding, Issel said. It is separate from other planned projects to replace the Newell Road and the Chaucer Street bridges in Palo Alto and to re-engineer the creek through the Palo Alto Baylands. Those plans are aimed to improve creek flow during heavy rains to prevent flooding.

The weir construction is expected to damage the creek bank, but Palo Alto nonprofit organization Acterra will repair those areas this fall by adding 475 native plants, including snowberry, California blackberry, toyon, oceanspray, dogwood, elderberry native bunchgrasses and willows, said Alex Von Feldt, program director for Acterra Stewardship. The plants are grown at the Acterra Nursery and are native to the San Francisquito watershed. Acterra has been working at the site for more than 15 years, she said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Which bike path is being closed? The one connecting Alma Street in Palo Alto to Alma Street in Menlo Park?

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Weekly - please let readers know which bridge will be closed so that peds & cyclists can make alternate plans. Thank you.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Reading the story, it's certainly the one by the weir, which is at the railroad bridge. That's on Alma.

Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 9, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Currently reading Nature's Fortune, How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature by Mark Tercek, CEO of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). This qualifies as a win-win project. Suggestion is that further effort be made at the source of the watershed of all lakes on Stanford Property to clear any obstacles. I remember reports of sediment build up due to dams at top. Re-think that now before the rains start so any sediment can be cleared, along with dams that have no current use so the water can be distributed in a more natural manner.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Thanks, curmudgeon! I hope that the project is successful.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2013 at 3:59 pm

This is a good story, IMO. I love wildlife, and I think we should all do what we can do to preserve them (and I include regulated fishing and hunting as part of the mix) . Next step: Removal of Searsville Dam...complicated issue, due to the silt, but still doable.

Posted by HB, a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 9, 2013 at 4:12 pm

Agree with above, good article, good project and removing Searsville Dam should happen next.

Posted by creek neighbor, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2013 at 11:20 pm

As someone who lives near and regularly hikes down into the creek this sounds like a good project. Hopefully during the construction they will also be able to remove some of the garbage that is regularly hauled into and left in the creek by the homeless population. Right now, in addition to the usual sleeping bags, broken bottles, cans, plastic bags and fecal matter there are garbage cans and a Weber BBQ in the creek. At the last creek clean up we were told not to disturb the "belongings" of the homeless. Even though it is clear that they care nothing for the environment and leave their garbage there where it gets washed downstream with the rains each year. Reminding the city that they promised to keep the homeless out of the creek never results in any long term action. This is awful for one of the last natural places in this city that is rapidly being turned into an urban wasteland.

Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 10, 2013 at 11:08 pm

Wow - did not know that homeless are leaving stuff in creek. How are the fish suppose to navigate upstream if trash is allowed to be in river? That has got to stop. We are working at odds here. Creek is for fish and frogs, not trash.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Member, this is cold comfort, but the homeless have been leaving their belongings in the creek for decades. Additionally, in the past I found a rotting cat carcass & a huge dog stuffed in a garbage bag, also rotting away. All urban creeks are trash receptacles unfortunately.

Have you ever read about the man in San Jose cleaning up one of the creeks there? He's done amazing work.

Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 12, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Relative to trash in creek - I think we should advertise monthly "city participant" clean-up days. Take all trash over to some location so the homeless can take what is theirs - but put them on notice that all trash will be cleared on a regular basis. We are spending money to beautify and clean up this creek so think we need to solicit man-power to help in this. Good project for students who need to list donated activities on their college letters. This gets them involved at an early age on green management of the city.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm

>At the last creek clean up we were told not to disturb the "belongings" of the homeless

creek neighbor, who, exactly, told you that? It is already illegal to pollute wild streams. Whoever told you that was instructing you to ignore the law.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 13, 2013 at 3:06 pm

creek neighbor, was it a member of Acterra who advised you to ignore the law ("At the last creek clean up we were told not to disturb the "belongings" of the homeless"), during one of its semi-annual San Francisquito Creek cleanups? Names matter, when the environmental laws are being ignored.

SF Creek will continue to an environmental mess, unless the law is obeyed.

Who was it, creek neighbor?

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