Commentary: Berkeley: A River Runs Through It By JULIET LAMONT, ELYCE JUDITH, ALAN GOULD AND DIANE TOKUGAWA, LISA OWENS VIANI, JEIWON DEPUTY
Two weeks ago, some local residents spotted something truly special in Codornices Creek: a pair of adult steelhead trout—a federally listed threatened species—trying to build nests (“redds”) for their eggs. Fortunately, Friends of Five Creeks and the Urban Creeks Council were able to capture these spawning attempts on film for the first time ever on this creek (you can view the video clip at www.urbancreeks.org).
It’s remarkable and exciting that our urban creeks have the ecological integrity to support rare and endangered species. Let’s grasp this opportunity and do something truly significant for future generations and the environment, by preserving the existing habitat that supports these fish, and restoring more habitat for them and for other wildlif e.
Right now, one of Berkeley’s key environmental regulations, the Berkeley Creek Ordinance, is under pressure. The outcome will set a precedent for our willingness to stand up for the environment, and to affirm that the environmental regulations that B erkeley pioneered are vital to healthy cities. On March 22, the Berkeley Creeks Task Force and the Planning Commission will hold a public hearing to hear final comments about task force recommendations (7 p.m. at the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hea rst Ave.). We hope you’ll come to the meeting and speak out for strong creek and watershed protections!
Why support strong creek and watershed policies? One reason is that such policies don’t just protect fish, they protect people and property too. Healt hy creeks, and vegetated buffer zones along them, work directly toward protecting property from erosion, improving water quality, preventing floods, and stabilizing banks. Creekside vegetation helps to filter pollutants, while slowing flood pulses from st orms. Natural swales and vegetation not only reduce the pollution and sediments flowing into the creeks that harm water quality and wildlife, but also reduce flooding on streets and into homes, and help to reduce the damage to structures from those floods.
Even large, heavily urbanized cities like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, are embracing integrated watershed planning and restoration, in an effort to enhance their “green infrastructure” and the use of natural systems to control stormwater runoff and floods. And it just happens that with all of these benefits to us and to our communities, we also benefit the fish, the birds, the trees—the natural world around us.
Join us and many others in our community in supporting the following policy recommendations, which are a good compromise for addressing property owner concerns while ensuring that we protect and restore critical natural ecosystems:
• Continue the current policy that prevents new roofed construction within 30 feet of an open cree k. But vertical expansions (i.e. up or down within the same footprint) should be allowed.
• Continue the current policy that allows rebuilding of existing structures after disaster or loss.
• Continue the current policy that allows repairs to roofed str uctures that are within 30 feet of a creek.
• Provide a buffer zone so that parking lots, patios, and other structures cannot be built extremely close to a creek. Healthy creeks need a vegetated buffer zone.
• Keep culverted (i.e. underground) creek se ctions in the ordinance—creeks are a whole system from top to bottom!—but soften the restrictions on building near culverts by basing them on safety and maintenance access , as other cities do.
• Identify realistic, feasible daylighting opportunities thr ough an open, public process, and protect those opportunities on public and institutional properties, while encouraging voluntary daylighting on private properties through grant funding and other incentives. (“Daylighting” means restoring culverted creeks to run above-ground again.)
• Prohibit the construction of new culverts, new armored walls (e.g. “riprap” and “gabion walls”), and other “hardscape” (like concrete) in creek channels. These are detrimental structures that impact everyone.
• Include strong incentives for property owners to restore creeks and riparian buffer zones.
• Support the funding of a Watershed & Creeks Coordinator position, and the design and implementation of a comprehensive, integrated watershed protection and management plan for Berkeley.
Our environment is a community trust; its protection and stewardship should be a city and global priority. Come out to the hearing, write to your city representatives, and celebrate Berkeley’s commitment to a sustainable, healthy planet!
J uliet Lamont is an environmental consultant and owns property alongside Codornices Creek. Elyce Judith, Alan Gould and Diane Tokugawa are Cordornices creekside property owners, Lisa Owens Viani is an environmental writer/editor, and Jeiwon Deputy is an employee of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.