Framework of the
San Francisquito Creek Project
Statement of Problem and Objective
Thousands of communities in small watersheds across the nation are or
will be facing issues of flooding, water supply, habitat restoration,
aging dams, and stream impairment by sediment and pollutants from non-point
sources. There is an immediate need to develop a decision support system
based on sound science that incorporates community values that will help
to provide for informed decisions on these issues. These issues are vexing
decisionmakers in the San Francisquito Creek watershed, California.
The San Francisquito Creek watershed encompasses 45 mi2 and
includes a wide diversity of natural habitats and land use types. San
Francisquito Creek is the last riparian free-flowing urban creek on the
southern Peninsula of San Francisco Bay. It begins as overflow from the
Searsville Lake dam built in 1892 in Stanford University's Jasper Ridge
Biological Preserve. The creek flows for 14 miles from its source to its
terminus in San Francisco Bay. Rural areas and open space characterize
the upper watershed. In its lower reaches the creek courses through densely
San Francisquito Creek is the boundary between Santa Clara and San Mateo
Counties and flows through parts of five municipalities-Menlo Park, Palo
Alto, East Palo Alto, Portola Valley, and Woodside. It empties into San
Francisco Bay at the city of East Palo Alto. The towns and cities in the
watershed vary greatly in wealth from tremendous affluence to significant
The reservoir behind the dam, Searsville Lake, is projected to fill completely
with sediment in 15 to 40 years depending upon future weather patterns.
The consequences of the reservoir filling on riparian habitat and flooding
are unknown. In 1998, San Francisquito Creek flooded along its downstream
reaches, causing $28 million in damage. The creek is the last remaining
run of steelhead trout (a federally listed threatened species) in the
southern part of the San Francisco Bay. It has been listed under section
303(d) of the Clean Water Act as impaired with regard to Total Maximum
Daily Load (TMDL), which refers to the amount of sediment in the stream.
These four issues-flooding, aquatic habitat restoration, dam removal,
and TMDL impairment-are of concern to the communities in the San Francisquito
Creek watershed. A committee, composed of a subgroup of citizens from
the San Francisquito Watershed Council and U.S. Geological Survey
(USGS) scientists, decided that a sediment budget needed to be established
for the watershed to aid in decisions concerning the four issues.
Specific Research Questions
The following questions must be answered to evaluate the impact of sediment
and to make informed choices about the management of the creek.
- What has been the effect of land use change in contributing sediment
to the reservoir and on landscape change?
- Is the watershed impaired with regard to sediment?
- What impact will this sediment have on the carrying capacity of the
creek and aquatic habitat?
- How can the multiple uses of an urbanized watershed be managed to
minimize impact to the ecological habitat?
Overarching Framework: scientific research in a social and political
During the last five years, more and more decisionmakers are recognizing
that the traditional ways of resolving environmental policy issues are
insufficient in that they suffer from a lack of community acceptance.
Consequently, new democratic and participatory strategies to decisionmaking
are emerging. For example, the central theme of the 2000 Society for Human
Ecology conference was Democracy and Participation, a recent seminar series
sponsored by Massasschusetts Insitute of Technology's (MIT) Department
of Urban Studies and Planning and Harvard University's Kennedy School
of Government was entitled "Civic Environmentalism: Democratic Pathways
to Sustainability," and the first priority of the President's Government
Reform Initiative is to make government citizen-centered for the purpose
of empowering citizens to make decisions.
In an endeavor to increase integration of diverse disciplines and build
upon traditional and ongoing USGS efforts to work with constituent groups,
the USGS launched an experimental activity called INCLUDE (Integrated-science
and Community-based Values in Land Use Decisionmaking) in late 1998. Since
January 1999, INCLUDE has been headquartered at the Western Geographic
Science Center as a core element of an interdivisional research agenda.
INCLUDE engages citizens as partners with discipline experts in a collaborative
problem-solving process. The cornerstone of the INCLUDE effort is (1)
to identify the regional scientific issues of concern through a dialogue
with the communities of place and publics of interest, (2) to design the
scientific investigations to address these concerns with the active participation
of citizens, and (3) to effectively communicate the scientific concepts
and findings to stakeholders. This cornerstone is laid upon a foundation
of taking a problem-focused, rather than a discipline-focused, approach
to contributing scientific information toward the resolution of environmental
and land use issues.
The San Francisquito Creek Project is a case study to help design and
implement the INCLUDE approach. The approach, conceptualized three years
ago, is at the vanguard of sustainability science, an emerging field that
explores the interactions between nature and society (Kates et al., 2001).
INCLUDE offers a way to implement an idea embraced by the proponents of
sustainability science, that "…participatory procedures involving
scientists, stakeholders, advocates, active citizens, and users of knowledge
are critically needed" (Kates and others, 2001, p. 641) to achieve
wise and durable solutions to vexing environmental problems. It must be
noted that "participatory" is distinguished from "involvement"
of the public, which typically means consultation and not active and meaningful
inclusion in the design and implementation of projects.
Universal framework research questions
Overarching questions to be addressed include the following:
- How do we connect people and science so that science becomes an integral
part of decisions? How can the scientific findings be effectively communicated
- How can the competing interests be examined and reconciled to achieve
balanced solutions to land use and environmental policy?
- How can today's relatively independent activities of research planning,
monitoring, assessment, and decision support be better integrated into
systems for adaptive management and societal learning (Kates and others,
Two critical questions asked by the recent MIT and Harvard seminar on
"Civic Environmentalism: Democratic Pathways to Sustainability"
are key questions being asked by INCLUDE and the San Francisquito Creek
- How are new democratic, participatory strategies different from past
"grassroots" environmental movements?
- What are real on-the-ground outcomes of civic environmental experiments?
Two key hypotheses that we intend to test are the following:
- The more you involve the people affected by a policy decision in the
design of the supporting scientific inquiry, the greater the chance
that they will use (and value) the results in the decisions that get
- It ought to be possible, as research proceeds, to review preliminary
findings and leave open the possibility of refining the study design
with input from the public. In short, it should be possible to take
an adaptive-management approach.
Approach and Plan
The San Francisquito Creek Project was designed by a group of citizens
in dialogue with scientists. Four citizens and two scientists comprise
the project steering committee. To address the questions and hypotheses
above and the full range of issues defined by the community, the project
takes a problem-focused, in contrast to discipline-focused, approach.
The project began in fall of 2000. The San Francisquito Creek Project
consists of three major components:
- Biophysical and Geographic Science Studies
- Social Dynamics Studies
- Communication and Learning Activities
A multidisciplinary team, of scientists, educators, practitioners and
theorists of consensus building and environmental negotiation, urban and
land use planners, and local community leaders and decisionmakers, has
been assembled to accomplish the project objectives.
The purpose of the project is more than to help solve specific issues
in the San Francisquito Creek watershed. An overarching goal of the entire
team is to explore the role of science, scientists, and scientific analysis
in negotiations regarding the management of environmental resources. As
part of this goal, an educational component will focus on working with
school groups to test, evaluate, and learn from communities' experiences
with using science in collaborative processes to resolve environmental
Kates, R.W. and others, 2001, Sustainability Science: Science, v. 282,
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