Widow White Creek Restoration

Location: McKinleyville, CA
Cooperating Agencies: McKinleyville Community Services District, California Department of Fish and Game
Funding Sources: California Department of Fish and Game, California Department of Water Resources, State Coastal Conservancy

Widow White Creek at McKinleyville Ave. in October 2001, immediately after installing the rock weirs
same view on-12/17/01. The erosion on the right bank below weir 2 (left center of photo) can be seen.
Same view in September 2003, after armoring the right bank below the second weir, repairing the second weir, and adding a third weir

NRS and the McKinleyville Community Services District (MCSD) co-sponsored the Widow White Creek project which has been ongoing since 2001. Funding was provided by the California Department of Water Resources - Urban Streams Restoration program, NOAA Fisheries (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration- National Marine Fisheries Service), the State Coastal Conservancy, and cost shares from landowners, local businesses, and community volunteers. The project included a bank stabilization project to protect part of the California Coastal Trail (the Hammond Trail, Widow White Creek Interpretive Loop), fisheries restoration, riparian vegetation enhancement, a hydrologic assessment, development of an outdoor education curriculum, and construction of a trail along the creek behind the McKinleyville High School.

The hydrologic assessment determined that the 2-year recurrence flow had increased by 229% over pre-development conditions. The resulting bank erosion caused water quality problems and was threatening public easements – the MCSD sewer line right-of-way on the North Fork of Widow White Creek and the Hammond Trail. Fish habitat also was being negatively impacted by the soil from bank erosion filling in pools, clogging spawning gravels, and degrading water quality.

Widow White Creek goals included: reducing flood damage and improving water quality by decreasing sediment input form eroding banks; preventing a potentially catastrophic stream crossing failure; enhancing fish habitat and riparian habitat; improving fish access; increasing community awareness of the stream ecosystem to garner a sense of stewardship of the creek; and assessing the impacts of urbanization on stream hydrology. The physical goals were to be accomplished by replacing one culvert (North Fork Widow White Creek at the MCSD right-of-way crossing); modifying two culverts by adding jump pools and culvert baffles (Widow White Creek at McKinleyville Avenue and North Fork Widow White Creek at McKinleyville Avenue); and through the application of biotechnical stream bank stabilization to reduce sediment input and improve fish rearing habitat by incorporating large wood into the bank stabilization to provide cover and scour pools. The project also actively re-established the riparian forest by installing live-stake willow cuttings within the rock-log bank armor structures, planting spruce and shore pine in upslope areas, and assisting a landowner in his effort to replace non-native-invasive vegetation by re-planting native species.

Widow White Creek at McKinleyville Ave., January 2001 before installing baffles and weirs.
Widow White Creek at McKinleyville Ave.-October 2001, with newly installed baffles.

Final costs, not including cost shares, were $229,450. The project involved collaboration between 2 consulting firms, a hydrologist, a fish biologist, the MCSD, Humboldt County, the California Department of Fish and Game, the Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service, and RCAA-NRS. The County assisted with obtaining the required CEQA documents needed for the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) streambed alteration agreement and producing the Coastal Development Permit (CDP) needed for the bank stabilization project. The National Marine Fisheries Service expedited their review so the project could be implemented within the construction and contract windows. The Army Corps of Engineers also expedited their review and provided the necessary Regional General Permit and Nationwide Permit for the project. DFG assisted with the project design to make sure the best plan was produced. The MCSD donated materials, equipment, and labor.

Additional project cost shares were provided by volunteer labor for trail building and maintenance; contributions of labor, equipment, and materials by the McKinleyville Community Services District; a $2,000 cash donation made by a local gravel mining company (Arcata Readimix); logs valued at $500 (Simpson Resource Co.); materials and equipment donations by the landowners (rock and logs valued at $1,200; bulldozer work valued at $800); and a donation of redwood beams to make the culvert baffles, valued at $1,360 (Contri Construction). Altogether donations of easements, labor, and materials were worth approximately $82,000.

Students and teachers from the McKinleyville High School Biology Club and NRS project manager Don Allan try to identify a conifer at the riparian restoration site on high school property along Widow White Creek. Below right NRS Planning Specialist Michele Copas plans the riparian enhancement project with teacher Blake Brown and students. This was part of Task 4 riparian enhancement.

The project protected a trail corridor, improved fish habitat, and got the community involved in Widow White Creek. The project also improved water quality and riparian habitat along more than 1,000 feet of the stream corridor, improved fish passage to an additional 2.5 miles of habitat, and took corrective measures to prevent a catastrophic culvert failure that would have damaged public infrastructure and degraded fish habitat and water quality. Equally valuable was the opportunity to work with the local high school students to increase their knowledge of the stream ecosystem. The outdoor education curriculum is a tool that can be used for years to come to make school children aware of the importance of the stream and riparian zones and to get them excited about the natural resources around them.

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Last updated: May 19, 2005