Friends of Orinda Creeks Celebrate Phase One Restoration Completion

(Jeff Heyman, Photographer)
The local non-profit Friends of Orinda Creeks held a celebration event on the bank of San Pablo Creek, behind 25 Orinda Way, on March 25, attended by city dignitaries, citizens and members of the organization. Restoration committee member David Hop speaks as the attending crowd looks on.

    Members of Friends of Orinda Creeks (FOC), along with Mayor Inga Miller and California State Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, discussed the nonprofit’s progress and goals at a celebration event March 25, held on the bank of San Pablo Creek.
    Mayor Miller expressed gratitude to Bauer-Kahan, an Orinda resident, for securing state funding for the project and to FOC, calling the progress in the stretch of the creek behind 25 Orinda Way “an ability to bring people here and show them what Friends of Orinda Creeks is doing and what more is to come.”
    Founded 30 years ago by hydrogeologist Cinda MacKinnon, FOC is dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Orinda’s watershed, working with local entities including East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), the City of Orinda and the Contra Costa County Public Works Department, Flood Control Division.
    Tom MacKinnon, geologist and active FOC board affiliate, worked alongside former FOC President Bob Stoops and member Tom Morehouse to clear a temporary path along the creek from the former Bank of America building to the Chevron gas station.
    With Project Engineer David Hop, wildlife biologist Reg Barrett and fisheries biologist Brian Waters, among the other members, “we have a really incredible team,” said MacKinnon.
    According to FOC President Michael Bowen, key areas of focus include ensuring habitat for wildlife, reintroducing rainbow trout and creek enhancement, as it flows downtown.
    “We have a lot of irons in the fire,” he said.
    The maintenance of water quality and striking a balance between community fire safety and preserving the quality of creeks – also remain important aspects of the ongoing project.
    “FOC has been successful in raising awareness,” said Bowen.
    In prior decades, San Pablo Creek was well known for its fish population.
    “It was called a blue-ribbon trout fishery,” said FOC board member and certified professional hydrologist Bruce McGurk, who spoke of the creek’s previous natural meandering path through the area around Village Pizza on Orinda Way.
    That path was modified in 1958 by the county, as a part of the four-lane Highway 24 project. Flow was diverted into a concrete channel designed to allow water to reach critical speed to maximize capacity.
    It was also meant to efficiently carry the 50-year flow and provide a bypass around downtown via excavation of the hill on the west side and construction of the new Camino Pablo, said McGurk.
    “In the restoration business, we call that ‘putting it in a straitjacket,’” he said. The creek’s former channel area was converted into Orinda’s present-day business area.
    Phase One of the restoration project marks the first change to the creek since 1962, when a storm damaged the channel and sent broken concrete downstream. FOC removed some of the concrete chunks last summer, but some remain, raising flood risk.
    Step pools were installed using rock weirs; dam-like structures which slow water flow and control its release. The work has proved solid in face of recent storms.
    “More work needs to be done,” said McGurk.
    The initial restoration phase cost around $150,000, with at least $90,000 coming from small donations, said McGurk. The planning stage lasted a year and a half and the hands-on work took two and a half weeks.
    Future potential plans include a bicycle path, more riparian plantings, ensuring a clear path for fish from above San Pablo Reservoir and turning city businesses toward the creek.
    Perceptions of San Pablo Creek as just a drainage ditch have shifted, said Bowen. “I think the city is really starting to look at the creek as an amenity.”
    Assistant Public Works Director for the County Public Works Department, Flood Control Division, Tim Jensen, commented on the recently completed work.
    “The property where the project was done is vacant county land that is no longer needed for any use by the county,” he said.
    Jensen called FOC’s work dealing with the broken concrete channel, “a benefit to the county.”
    He continued, “Our role was to coordinate with FOC, review their plans to ensure they meet county standards and check the work when completed. Everything went smoothly during that process. Our next step is to move forward with giving the land to the city or some other entity that would like to have it.”
    Orinda councilmember Janet Riley expressed her excitement and appreciation for the restoration efforts at the celebration event.
    “It’s wonderful to be able to walk through the natural beauty of the restored area,” she said. “It makes you feel so lucky to live here.”

Andrea Madison can be reached at

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