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San Francisquito Creek is one of the last unchannelized urban streams in the Bay Area. The creek is a vital natural resource to the communities that border it and to the larger ecological environment. Because the creek flows through two counties and five municipalities, it is deeply entwined in both political complexity and watershed management issues. Issues of jurisdiction, flooding, sedimentation, and vegetation need to be evaluated.

Watershed Management Issues

Pollution is a major threat to the Creek. Water quality and species habitat are of great concern. Pollutants such as garbage, oil, manure from horse stables, and silt from agriculture and construction enter the San Francisquito Creek from storm drains. The ecology of the creek is threatened by the disturbance of human activities. The creek may be one of the last habitats for steelhead trout in the South Bay. Natural systems do not follow political boundaries so management plans must be coordinated among the various jurisdictions. The San Francisquito Watershed Council has grouped management issues into the following areas:

  • Natural Resources -- Includes habitat for plants and animals and recreation.
  • Flood and Erosion Control -- Without adequately addressing flood hazards, significant damage can occur and has occurred in the past. Erosion also contributes to the flooding issues by undermining properties located along the creek banks.
  • Land Use -- Zoning and development can have significant effects on the watershed.
  • Pollution Prevention -- Attempts to preserve and restore the natural resources of the creek will require additional pollution-prevention measures.
  • Social Issues -- Besides the various political jurisdictions, there is a wide array of citizens who have specific values and views about natural resources.
  • Public Education and Involvement -- Any management initiative will require active support by the general public if the watershed is to be managed successfully.

Political Complexity

San Francisquito Creek flows through two counties-Santa Clara and San Mateo-and five municipalities-Menlo Park, Palo Alto, East Palo Alto, Portola Valley, and Woodside. The San Francisquito Creek Watershed is probably the most inter-jurisdictionally complicated watershed in the Bay Area, and the creek's floodplain alone is contained in three different communities: East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto.

Such jurisdictional complexity creates a problem in determining the management of the creek. Questions raised include the following examples: Which county or municipality is in charge of what part of the creek? How would management be determined since the creek flows from one jurisdiction to another? How is the floodplain delineated? How is the watershed delineated?

In an endeavor to help address fragmented management policies as a consequence of the numerous political jurisdictions in the watershed, a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) was formed in May 1999. The San Francisquito Creek JPA is comprised of officials from the City of Menlo Park, the City of Palo Alto, the City of East Palo Alto, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the San Mateo County Flood Control District. The San Francisquito Watershed Council and Stanford University are non-voting associate members.

The table below shows the different types of organizations, agencies, or authorities that are involved in the watershed.

Federal Agencies:

  • Golden Gate National Recreation Area
  • Stanford Linear Accelerator
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • National Marine Fisheries Service
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Geological Survey

State Agencies:

  • CalTrans
  • California State Water Resources Control Board
  • San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board
  • California Department of Fish and Game

Special Districts/Authorities:

  • San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority
  • San Mateo County Flood Control District
  • Santa Clara Valley Water DIstrict
  • Bay Conservation and Development Commission
  • San Francisco Water District/Hetch Hetchy
  • Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District
  • Valley Transportation Authority
  • Caltrain Joint Powers Board
  • East Palo Alto Sanitary District
  • West Bayside System Authority

Private Entities and Nongovernmental Organizations:

  • Stanford University
  • San Francisquito Watershed Council
  • California Water Service Company
  • Neighborhood associations (including Saint Francis/Duveneck, Crescent Park, Willows, Gardens, and Weekend Acres)

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