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San Francisquito Creek Web site

Welcome to the San Francisquito Creek website. This text-only page summarizes the information about the Creek and the data available on this website. It is a condensed form of the website, please visit the individual pages for details and data download.

The site is designed for ease of use and navigation with the following page layout:

  • USGS San Francisquito Creek logo on the top.
  • Contents in the middle.
  • Menu (navigation) bar, signature, and disclaimer at the bottom.


Welcome to the San Francisquito Creek Project Web site. This Web site aims to provide information and data to inform the public and decisionmakers about issues concerning the creek and the possible trade-offs that might be necessary in reaching mutually agreeable solutions to the complex problems. The primary goal of this Web site is to facilitate the dissemination of data and information from research, monitoring and environmental-management activities concerning San Francisquito Creek. We hope to ensure that all interested users (such as scientists, engineers, resource managers, local and regional governmental agencies, developers, and the public) have quick and easy access to a wide range of data, geographic information system (GIS) products, and general information.

Because San Francisquito Creek flows through two counties, five municipalities and numerous habitats, it is deeply entwined in both political and environmental issues. The San Francisquito Creek Project is a project of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that engages and collaborates with other organizations to work on these issues. The USGS will maintain this Web site and provide digital data and educational tools to facilitate the public's involvement in addressing issues of the creek and improving the decisionmaking processes.

Framework of the San Francisquito Creek

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.

Study Area

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.

The creek begins as overflow from the Searsville Lake dam built in 1892 in Stanford University's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which are part of the larger Coast Range. The creek flows generally northeastward for 14 miles from its source to its terminus in San Francisco Bay. Elevations range from approximately 762 meters (2,500 feet) to sea level. Rural areas and open space characterize the upper part of the watershed, which is hilly and rugged. In its lower reaches, the creek courses through densely populated cities located in relatively flat-lying areas. In places, the creek has carved a deep arroyo, with banks as high as 30 feet.

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 San Francisquito Creek Watershed (the area of drainage) covers five USGS 7.5-minute quadrangles: Woodside, Palo Alto, Mountain View, La Honda, and Mindego Hill.

Here is an index of the individual quads that cover study area:

Woodside Palo

Digital Data

This section allows users easy access to a wide range of high-quality digital data and GIS products covering the study area. Examples of GIS products include the following map layers: hydrography, roads, vegetation cover, forests, timber, and soils. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) provides four different digital cartographic products: Digital Raster Graphic (DRG), Digital Line Graph (DLG), Digital Elevation Model (DEM), and Digital Orthophoto Quadrangle (DOQ).


A scanned version of the USGS topographic map.

A Digital Raster Graphic (DRG) is a digital image (scanned version) of the USGS topographic map. DRGs are produced from USGS 1:24,000-, 1:24,000/1:25,000-, 1:63,360- (Alaska), 1:100,000-, and 1:250,000-scale topographic map series. The image inside the map neatline is georeferenced to the surface of the Earth and fit to the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) projection. The horizontal positional accuracy and datum of the DRG matches the accuracy and datum of the source map.


Cartographic data in vector format.

A Digital Line Graph (DLG) is digital vector data representing cartographic information. DLGs contain a wide variety of information depicting geographic features (for example, hypsography, hydrography, boundaries, roads, utility lines, etc). DLGs are derived from hypsographic data (contour lines) using USGS 7.5-minute, 15-minute, 2-arc-second (30- by 60-minute), and 1:2 million-scale topographic quadrangle maps.


Cartographic/geographic data of elevations in xyz coordinates.

A Digital Elevation Model (DEM) is digital cartographic/geographic data in raster form. The terrain elevations for ground positions are sampled at regularly spaced horizontal intervals. DEMs are derived from hypsographic data (contour lines) and/or photogrammetric methods using USGS 7.5-minute, 15-minute, 2-arc-second (30- by 60-minute), and 1-degree (1:250,000-scale) topographic quadrangle maps.


Digital, uniform-scale image created from aerial photos.

A Digital Orthophoto Quadrangle (DOQ) is a digital, uniform-scale image created from aerial photos. It is a photographic map in which ground features are displayed in their true ground position, because relief displacements caused by the camera and terrain of an aerial photograph have been removed. It combines the image characteristics of a photograph with the geometric qualities of a map, thus it is possible to get direct measurements of distances, areas, angles, and positions from a DOQ.

PowerPoint Show

The PowerPoint Show is an introductory presentation to describe the relation among the USGS, geographic information system (GIS), and the San Francisquito Creek.

USGS serves the Nation by providing reliable scientific information to:

  • describe and understand the Earth;
  • minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters;
  • manage water, biological, energy, and mineral resources; and
  • enhance and protect our quality of life.

GIS is an analytical tool that allows us to identify the spatial relationships between map features. GIS provides the opportunity to display different data layers for manipulation and analysis because the locations on the maps are referenced to the Earth’s surface. GIS is capable of assembling, storing, manipulating, and displaying geographically referenced information. GIS provides the opportunity to look at and understand problems in new ways. In brief, GIS is any tool that helps you to analyze and understand information about the Earth.

GIS is a tool that can help us answer these 5 questions:

  1. What is at...?
  2. Where is it?
  3. What has changed since...?
  4. What spatial patterns exist?
  5. What if...?


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.

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?

Participants and Contacts

Projects and organizations were created to raise awareness of the San Francisquito Creek watershed through community education and outreach activities and strengthen the community's connection to the creek. This creek has a long history of preservation efforts. Restoration activities include creek clean-ups, exotic-species removal, and planting watershed-specific species. Organizations such as the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority (JPA) and San Francisquito Watershed Council were created to bring together people and groups who are interested in the protection and restoration of the creek. The San Francisquito Creek Stewardship Project, which is sponsored by the San Francisquito Watershed Council, provides classroom presentations, school field trips, and community-service opportunities for businesses throughout the Peninsula and South Bay.


Links to other San Francisquito Creek web pages, data, articles, etc.


All information provided is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified.

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Thank You

Thank you for visiting the San Francisquito Creek Project website. The USGS hope you find this website helpful and easy to use.

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Last Modified: Thursday, 19-Jul-2007 13:52:22 EDT (cmh)
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