Students work to restore Strawberry Creek dams

Hayden Irwin/Staff

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As part of the Strawberry Creek Ecological Stabilization Project, two problematic dams in Strawberry Creek will be replaced within the next few weeks by more ecologically sustainable alternatives to improve one of the spawning habitats on campus for native fish.

The student-initiated project started in May last year, and it will finish by the end of the month after construction at the Eucalyptus Grove. In addition to installing dam alternatives, the project will include the planting of trees and other vegetation to reinforce the creek’s bank and prevent erosion.

Funding came from the campus Capital Renewal Committee and the Green Initiative Fund, or TGIF, which provide investments for campus infrastructure and grants for campus sustainability, respectively. TGIF provided initial funding of almost $48,000 and during the second phase contributed $10,000, along with the committee’s $80,000.

Katherine Walsh, the TGIF coordinator during the project’s conception, said in an email that the TGIF committee awarded grants to the project because of its “expected sustainability metrics such as stabilizing an eroded bank, preventing failure of the north fork check dam, and improving native species habitat, thereby increasing biodiversity.”

According to Walsh, TGIF has funded other projects related to Strawberry Creek in the past, including removing invasive species, testing water quality and constructing a native-plant nursery.

The current small dams meant to prevent erosion, known as check dams, will be replaced by rock step pools and log weirs, which are considered to be more habitat-friendly. At three feet, the dams are too tall for many fish to traverse, and because the step pools are graded, they better dissipate the energy of the water flow, according to Aysha Massell, the project manager.

Tim Pine, an environmental specialist of UC Berkeley’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety, said that like many urban streams, Strawberry Creek has often been neglected.

“The idea was to leave the natural areas on campus alone, to let them be natural,” he said. “The problem with that is they fall into disrepair or get taken over by invasive species.”

One of the check dams being replaced blew out in 2002, and the other is on the verge of failure. Massell described the dams as “unzipping” — as one falls apart, it causes the next to break down.

According to Massell, she and her team of then-UC Berkeley graduates and undergraduates decided to focus on the span of the creek near the Eucalyptus Grove because of its strong natural habitat and its popularity among the public.

“This is a huge win for us who care about the creek,” Massell said. “There is a growing consciousness of the importance of our waterways — the level of disrepair (of the creek) must be addressed before it threatens our infrastructure.”

Contact Frances Fitzgerald at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @f_fitzgerald325.

A previous version of this article stated that the Green Initiative Fund gave the Strawberry Creek Ecological Stabilization Project $60,000 for the second phase of the project. In fact, the fund contributed $10,000 during the second phase.