A graffiti-ridden drainage channel running through the American River Parkway in Rancho Cordova is poised for a major makeover that will transform it into a cleaner and greener creek where recreational and educational activities abound.
The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a contract assessing the environmental impact of the Cordova Creek Naturalization Project – a rehabilitation effort that has been in the works for nearly a decade. The approval is a major milestone in a plan that involves breaking up and burying the channel’s concrete walls and rerouting its water through a new creek, which will be surrounded by native vegetation and walking trails.
The new creek will allow the soil around it to absorb the water, which comes from a runoff watershed in Rancho Cordova, ultimately creating a 15-acre riparian area where trees and wildflowers can flourish.
“At the moment, it is a single-function flood control channel,” said Chris Bowles of CBEC, Inc., an eco-engineering firm assisting with the project. “Its purpose is to get stormwater from the city of Rancho Cordova to the lower American River. The ultimate objectives here are to create a much more naturally functioning stream system that will have multiple benefits. Not only will it still transfer stormwater runoff; it will have ecological benefits, aesthetic benefits and recreational benefits.”
The 55-acre property through which the channel currently runs is called the American River Ranch and is part of the larger American River Parkway. It is leased and managed by Soil Born Farms, a nonprofit organization which aims to create community educational opportunities surrounding food, the environment and health. The ranch includes 5 acres of agricultural land, a farm animal section and a native plant nursery where students and community members regularly take tours.
The channel is named Clifton’s Drain after the farming family that built it in the 1940s and 1950s, according to the farm’s founder and co-director, Shawn Harrison. It was first adapted from a natural stream to a gunite-lined irrigation tool to prevent the erosion of farmland. Now that Soil Born Farms leases the county-owned property and uses a pressurized drip system to water crops, the channel is no longer needed for irrigation and the water goes straight to the river, Harrison said.
Construction for the creek project will begin in spring 2015 under direction of the Sacramento County Department of Water Resources, with assistance from Sacramento County Regional Parks, the City of Sacramento-County Office of Metropolitan Water Planning (Sacramento Water Forum), Soil Born Farms, the California Native Plant Society and the City of Rancho Cordova. Construction is expected to take six to eight months.
Sacramento County Regional Parks first applied for project funding through the Proposition 84 California River Parkways Grant Program in 2008 and received approval, along with a $1,732,407 grant, in 2010, said Regional Parks Senior Natural Resource Specialist Mary Maret. The contract was finalized in 2012, at which point Regional Parks handed the project off to the Department of Water Resources, which had the staff necessary to oversee the task.
The Department of Water Resources will contribute an additional $115,000 to the project and another $54,000 will come from County Regional Parks, said David Bolen, associate civil engineer with the Department of Water Resources. The Sacramento Water Forum, the City of Rancho Cordova, the California Native Plant Society and Soil Born Farms will also contribute to the project.
The construction will not affect the portion of the channel that runs through the city, said Tom Gohring, executive director of the water forum. The project site includes about three-fourths of a mile of the channel, from where it enters the American River Parkway near Moraine Circle in Rancho Cordova to where it meets the existing Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail.
“It looks like a fallow field with a concrete ditch running through it,” said Gohring. “When we’re done, it will be a meandering stream which will provide an amazing amount of habitat diversity. ... For those of us who do ecological restoration work, it’s like the holy grail.”
Water will flow at a slower pace through the wider and flatter creek, and as it does the new plants will absorb some of the runoff toxins that currently flow straight from people’s lawns to the American River, ultimately improving water quality, said Harrison.
“The creek really is a mechanism that over time has been important for the health of the American River system,” he said. “We’re developing this public facility in order to experience and interpret that for the public. It’s really about educating people about conserving water and not polluting our waterways.”
New dirt trails along the creek will feature educational signs about its function and the surrounding flora and fauna. The trails will be accessible from the entrance of Soil Born Farms and from the residential West LaLoma Drive, said Guy Galante, education director at Soil Born Farms.
The farm intends to invite local students to work on the area around the creek, providing opportunities to learn about water studies, bird monitoring, invasive plant removal and more, said Galante. Students will be asked to build bird houses for owls, which provide natural pest control for the property’s crops.
More birds will be drawn to the ranch with the planting of new trees and flowers, which will include button willows, lupins and creeping wild rye being grown at the California Native Plant Society’s Elderberry Farms Nursery on the property.
“This brings Soil Born’s mission of food, health and the environment full circle,” said Galante. “To have a creek that’s planted and cared for by the community is a big thing.”
Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.