Photo By: ELLIE VAN HOUTTE/ TOWN CRIER
Los Altos Hills Water Conservation Committee member Kit Gordon estimates that only 5 percent of local residents can identify their watershed – the Lower Peninsula Watershed – much less define what a watershed is.
A watershed is an area that drains into a common waterway, such as a creek or San Francisco Bay. Watersheds provide drinking water, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities.
A coalition of more than 35 organizations gathered at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills for the Silicon Valley Watershed Summit Sept. 22. Conference participants discussed plans for protection and enhancement of watersheds in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.
The Lower Peninsula Watershed encompasses 98 square miles of creeks flowing through Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Cupertino and Sunnyvale. Adobe, Permanente and Matadero creeks filter water from the foothills above Los Altos Hills into the surrounding communities.
Watersheds collect water and everything that crosses its path during migration, good or bad – whether critical minerals or undesirable pesticides. Without a healthy watershed, fish stop migrating, flooding occurs and the human footprint overpowers natural processes.
According to Los Altos Hills resident Jitze Couperus, an advocate for watershed maintenance and restoration, watersheds are as important to the local water system as Highway 101 is to transportation in the Bay Area.
Gordon said regulating the health of local waterways is not just about maintaining property values, but also about preserving resources for future generations.
“As climate change happens, I want (our children) to say our forefathers got it right and planned things well,” she said.
Modern development in the Bay Area makes re-engineering the biodiversity of waterways to their original state an unrealistic goal. But by embracing sustainable solutions – small and large – local advocates aim to effect positive change in watershed systems.
How Adobe Creek got its groove back
Although Couperus said he’s “not much of a tree hugger,” he took action when Adobe Creek – the waterway that runs through his backyard – began to show the consequences of human intervention.
“It took one day to wipe out and 15 years to get back,” said Couperus of the native plant species that new neighbors along the creek would weed-whack off their properties.
More than a decade ago, landowners began altering the ecosystem of Adobe Creek by replacing native vegetation, blocking the creek with infill and draining water through pipes into the stream instead of letting it permeate and disperse naturally. Areas of Adobe Creek farther downhill were lined with concrete, causing water to flow downstream too quickly. Without the elements of its original riparian surroundings, erosion and flooding overtook the creek.
By the time Couperus took up the cause of restoring Adobe Creek in 2000, the Santa Clara County Water District and collaborating federal water agencies had proposed installation of a fence or wall along his neighborhood’s section of the creek – a solution few landowners would approve.
In response, Couperus formed the Adobe Creek Watershed Group and forged the relationships necessary to repair more than 100 years of damage to the creek in a sustainable manner.
With the cooperation of his creekside neighbors, the city of Los Altos, the town of Los Altos Hills and the county water district, a creek restoration project took root. By February 2009, the Adobe Creek Upper Reach 5 restoration was complete.
Over the long term, Couperus, Gordon and other advocates hope to promote watershed awareness as well as change the culture and way of thinking in Silicon Valley. Both conservationists believe that the balance is tipping in favor of nature as residents learn to appreciate the benefits of the California landscape.
“It’s becoming cool to be environmentally conscious,” Gordon said.