If you’ve been spending time on the Santa Cruz Riverwalk in the last month, you might have noticed the great work done by Ecological Concerns Inc., the contractors hired to trim the plants along the levee as part of flood control. With help from our community, CWC advocated for the City of Santa Cruz to adopt a more habitat-friendly approach for levee vegetation management. CWC is thrilled with the results we’ve seen, and we’re hopeful that positively shifting the root of this process will benefit the river for years to come!
Managing plants on the levee perfectly illustrates a challenge facing urban rivers like the lower San Lorenzo: how to balance healthy river habitat with a safe structure for flood control. The City is required to follow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations and maintenance requirements for the levee and cut back vegetation each fall to maintain flood control. When done carefully, this management can ensure that maximum benefits for people, fish and wildlife are kept in place.
One easy-to-spot example of how the recent work accomplished this is the “lollipop” trees like willows on the levee slope, shown in the photo above. Rather than completely cutting the trees, as had been done in the past, Ecological Concerns Inc. trimmed only the lowest branches, which makes the levee visible for inspections and prevents debris from getting snagged during floods, while allowing the trees to remain as important habitat for birds and other animals. Our hearts also swelled when we saw that even the smallest naturally sprouting California poppy plants had been carefully mowed around – demonstrating that the contractors could identify native plants and paid great attention to detail!
Some other things we love about the recent work:
- Non-woody native plants like mugwort, goldenrod, and native cocklebur were left standing at the river’s edge.
- Tree branches were left overhanging the river to provide shady, bug-rich fish habitat.
- All newly planted native plants were left standing at CWC’s habitat enhancement site – with careful weeding around the plants to help them thrive!
- Mowed vegetation was left on site to decompose and add nutrients to the soil.
These outcomes are a big “win” for the San Lorenzo River and its wildlife that YOU helped make possible! The Santa Cruz community wrote dozens of letters as part of our mobilization around this issue, and helped CWC successfully advocate for the City to shift its contracting practices by considering environmental qualifications for this important role. Thank you for being part of the push for more ecologically balanced vegetation management on the San Lorenzo, which has left more riparian habitat available for birds, pollinators, fish, and other wildlife. CWC looks forward to continuing to serve as eyes out on the levee and a voice for the river.