Creek Week 2011: Time to clean up local waterways

They are vital to an efficient storm water drainage system, they provide habitat for an estimated 90 percent of urban wildlife, they contribute to a healthy drinking water supply – and they need your help. They are Sacramento County’s creeks, and your chance to help them is coming in the form of Creek Week 2011, scheduled April 8 through April 16.
Volunteers from Sertoma, Service to Mankind, help collect trash from Arcade Creek during Creek Week 2010. The annual cleanup of Sacramento’s local creeks and waterfronts is important to keep habitats safe, clean and environmentally sound. / Photo courtesy

Volunteers from Sertoma, Service to Mankind, help collect trash from Arcade Creek during Creek Week 2010. The annual cleanup of Sacramento’s local creeks and waterfronts is important to keep habitats safe, clean and environmentally sound. / Photo courtesy

The event, which is marking its 21st year, has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings, recalled Alta Tura, president of the Sacramento Area Creeks Council, the all-volunteer nonprofit organization in charge of planning Creek Week.

“We started 21 years ago with maybe 30 people, and we went over by American River College and cleaned up Arcade Creek between Winding Way down to Garfield Avenue,” she said. “Last year, we had about 2,200 volunteers working at about 50 sites, and it continues to grow as more people are becoming aware of what we do.”

Creek Week’s signature event, the creek cleanup effort at sites across Sacramento County, will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 16; volunteers must register by April 13. Cleanup events are scheduled on various creeks in Arden-Carmichael, Citrus Heights, North Sacramento/North Highlands/Natomas, as well as in South Sacramento and Rancho Cordova, among others; a full list of cleanup sites and a volunteer registration form is online at www.creekweek.net.

Removing debris from creeks helps the creeks remove debris from storm water, Tura explained.

“Storm water that drains into our creeks usually is pretty dirty,” she said. “If a creek is clean, its natural vegetation and soil help clean storm water before it moves downstream to the water treatment facility.”

If 2010’s results are any indicator, cleanup volunteers can expect to be busy again this year; Tura said volunteers last year removed about 19 tons of garbage from creek sites in Sacramento, Citrus Heights, Folsom, Rancho Cordova, and unincorporated Sacramento County. Volunteers also removed about 10,000 square feet of invasive plants, including 4,400 square feet of red sesbania plants, 4,000 square feet of thistle, and substantial amounts of ivy and nonnative blackberry plants.

“In Natomas especially, there are some sites that are in dire need of invasive plant removal,” Tura said. “The biggest problem is red sesbania, which is native to South America. It’s invaded a lot of local creeks, like Arcade Creek, Dry Creek, and Steelhead Creek. It grows so fast and so thick that it can affect water conveyance. Plus, it’s poisonous and not used by any animals.”

After cleaning the local creeks, volunteers will gather at noon at Carmichael Park, 5750 Grant Ave., to celebrate with a picnic lunch, earth-friendly exhibits, and the much-anticipated “junk and gunk” contest, where volunteers create sculptures using the items removed from local creeks.

“It’s a celebration, an opportunity for people to celebrate the hard work they’ve done and a way for them to learn more about our local aquatic system,” Tura said. “We want people to get out there and feel good about providing a valuable service.”

Other creek-centric activities scheduled during the week leading up to the April 16 creek cleanup effort represent opportunities to learn about creeks and perhaps encounter some of the critters that inhabit local urban waterways.

From 10 a.m. until noon, Saturday, April 9, visitors to Arcade Creek in Del Paso Regional Park will be able to go fishing with local biologists to determine what sorts of fish call the creek home. The same morning at the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, naturalists will introduce visitors to the to some of the macro-invertebrates, like water striders, backswimmers and diving beetles, that call Carmichael home.

From noon until 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 13, staff from the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (SRCSD) will provide an introduction to local fish at the undeveloped buffer area between the district’s regional wastewater treatment plant and surrounding neighborhoods in southern Sacramento County. SRCSD staff will demonstrate fish sampling techniques in a local lake, practice hands-on fish identification, and discuss the natural history of California’s fish communities. Participants also will be able to view some of the direct consumers of the local fish populations during a visit to a large heron and egret rookery.

Finally, on Thursday, April 14, there will be a free river-friendly landscaping workshop at the UC Cooperative Extension Auditorium, 4145 Branch Center Rd. in Sacramento. UC Master Gardeners will demonstrate nontoxic ways to stop insects ruining vegetables and landscape plants. Registration required; contact Suman Kumar by April 12 at kumarsu@saccounty.net or (916) 874-8326 to register or for additional information.

For more information about Creek Week 2011 events, including a full list of regional events and registration information, visit www.creekweek.net or call (916) 454-4544.