Friday, May 6, 2005
By JAY GOETTING
Register Staff Writer
Salvador Creek has wrought many problems for nearby residents over the years, and may be unleashing more in the future.
But now, concerned homeowners near the creek are making progress in improving the health of the stream and protecting their property from erosion and flooding.
"The wheels are finally getting greased," said Valencia Street resident Richard Champion, one of a group of locals that has been meeting regularly for the past two years about the creek. Champion has made recent presentations to several local governmental agencies.
Called the most altered waterway in Napa, Salvador Creek winds from Highway 29 near Valencia Street east to the Napa River just north of Trancas Street. Where it passes through the Vintage High School campus, the creekbed is a cement ditch reminiscent of the channels the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers once favored.
Champion, a north Napa resident since 1979 whose property backs up to the creek, said part of the creek was bulldozed back when such an action was not forbidden. He said erosion of the land on either side of the stream is a major concern, with 60 separate parcels touching the channel in the several mile stretch from the highway to the Napa River.
"Another year like 1986 would be devastating," Champion recently told members of the Flood Control District board. A major flood occurred in '86, concentrating its destruction in the downtown Napa area but affecting other areas as well.
Champion said the winter of 1998 also brought some problems, but when the district brought in some heavy equipment to clean out the creek bottom, it improved the situation greatly -- for a while.
"Nothing's been done since," he said. "The biggest problem is neglect."
Champion said the stewardship group is getting the attention of local officials and is especially impressed with Napa County's Resource Conservation District. "That's a good outfit," he said. "I'm really happy with them."
The RCD is conducting a hydrological study to measure creek capacity and other factors important in addressing erosion and flooding. A special software program that helps compile the data was termed "a pretty nifty tool" by the RCD's education and outreach coordinator, Michael Champion (no relation to Richard). Some preliminary findings have been released and a full report will be available some time next year.
The Department of Fish and Game is also becoming involved.
"People have been concerned for some time," said Todd Adams, a stormwater runoff specialist with the flood control district. "The city has been concerned the channel can't handle the 100-year flood event. ... It's not unusual to find sofas, chairs, tires, VCRs, computers and almost anything you can dream up being dumped into the creeks," said Adams. "For many, the waterways have become a dumping ground."
A huge old oak tree toppled into the creek a couple of years ago and remains to this day, blocking water flow and creating a hazard.
Flood control district engineer Jon Lander said Salvador Creek, one of many that criss-crosses the city of Napa, was "improved" years ago. The district has negotiated easements and acquired adjacent property to help control the effects. Much of the district's direct control is on the north side of the creek, across from residences and contiguous to vineyards.
Lander said with the existing maintenance plans, "Erosion hasn't been great. It's all been contained in district property.
"People have tended to throw their yard clippings over the fence," said Lander. "If we don't thoughtfully manage the creek, there could be problems."
He added that in some places the channel is undersized, and there have been climatic changes in recent decades. Storms and rainfall have tended to be more intense, he said.
People who live near Salvador Creek regularly see problems in their neighborhoods, and new homes are going in with even more on the drawing board. Nearby residents feel not enough is being asked of developers to help mitigate the creek problems.
Adams and Lander both noted that developers often have been required to construct underground detention basins to keep water from running into the creek and to limit runoff.
Richard Champion isn't convinced those measures will provide relief. "Nobody knows if they'll work," he said.
The local stewardship group would like to get a plan in place modeled after the Napa River flood control plan, only on a smaller scale.
Adams said a widening and a terracing of the banks -- creating a sort of wetlands area wherever possible between Byway East and Jefferson -- could help. Removing and replacing bridges that impede flow could be an effective, albeit expensive, alternative, especially near Garfield Lane.
Moving to the source of the creek in Alston Park is yet another alternative. Creating a wetlands there to promote water retention and soil saturation before it enters the creek could significantly reduce flow downstream.
Dredging Salvador Creek is another alternative, though Adams said that hasn't happened in years.
Supervisor Bill Dodd, whose district includes a portion of the affected area, said, "I am concerned, but it's mostly a city matter, and they have their setback rules. There is work we can do."
Dodd says getting the Department of Fish and Game involved would be important, as well. The erosion and flood hazard, he said, "could get worse and worse."
Napa Mayor Jill Techel, who chairs the flood control board, has attended a meeting of the stewardship group, and newly elected Councilman Jim Krider lives on Valencia and is familiar with the problems.
Techel said, "There is some work afoot, but we can always do more."
An update is scheduled for the flood control board at 1:30 p.m. on May 17. Meanwhile, erosion chips away at the creek banks, and when it rains, water fills up quickly to the brim and beyond. "Time is not on our side," said Richard Champion.