Bringing Streams To Light
In a reverse of tradition, engineers have begun to build communities around existing streams.
In cities all over the world, engineers have channelized, straightened, or buried free-flowing creeks to maximize space for buildings and streets. A number of communities in the San Francisco Bay area have taken steps to do the opposite; they are opening up, or “daylighting,” portions of the area’s 35-mile creek system.
Several of the creeks were restored primarily by teams of shovel and pick-wielding volunteers. Other streams, such as the Codornices Creek, required the work of a crack construction team outfitted with heavy equipment.
Once workers open up a portion of a creek and replant exposed areas with native vegetation, most of the aquatic insects return on their own, attracting birds, amphibians, and snakes, all the way up the food chain.
Biodiversity is enriched, as are nearby residents. The day-lighted waterflows bring nature and agriculture back into balance with human beings and their urban habitats.
Richard Register, director of Ecocity Builders and a pioneer of Bay Area creek restoration, advises anyone interested in restoring a stream to start with a “creek stenciling” program. Volunteers use brightly painted shapes of creek-dwelling animals and insects as markers to indicate underground creek locations. Once the organizers establish a sufficient amount of community awareness and support, they begin work on the stream itself.
The size and scope of restoration projects can vary greatly. If a creek is buried, daylighting it can be as simple as digging away the coverage, but if the creek has been channeled or diverted, restorers must search historic records and check topographical maps to find the stream’s original path.