North Richmond Urban Nature Loop Point of Interest #2
Did you know that you are part of a watershed? A watershed is an area of land where all the water that falls within it flows to one body of water. You are now standing next to Wildcat Creek. You can see a map of the creek in the image below, on the left. The image on the right shows the area of the Wildcat Creek Watershed. Rain that falls in the area of this watershed flows toward the creek as runoff (on the surface) or as groundwater (through the soil and bedrock). The creek then takes all this water into the San Francisco Bay.
The highest point of Wildcat Creek, which is where the creek starts, is Vollmer Peak, at an elevation of 1,900 feet above sea level. It is located in Tilden Park, just above Lake Anza where you can go swimming! Lake Anza is part of Wildcat Creek. The creek flows from Berkeley Hills to Alvarado Park in Richmond through Wildcat Canyon, from south to north. It then turns east, to reach the Bay. Wildcat Watershed has an area of about 9 square miles and the main creek is around 13.5 miles long. In summer, the creek is usually dry or has a low flow.
The creek ecosystem provides living space (habitat), water, and food to many plants and animals, including fish, birds, and amphibians. We will talk about these species in other places on the tour. Pre-colonialism, the Indigenous Lisjan (Ohlone) people lived in this area for over 3,000 years. The watershed provided them with water, food, shelter, and transportation routes. Today, it is also home to hundreds of thousands of people, including the Confederated Villages of Lisjan and their descendants who still live in the Bay Area.
You are standing at the lower reach of the creek. In flat areas such as this, creeks tend to ‘meander’ – their channel creates curve-like shapes. You may see the channel meander if you walk east, toward the Fish Passage. As we continue our walk west toward the Bay, you might observe that the channel here is straight. This is a man-made feature and not the natural appearance of the creek, and it was done some decades ago to reduce flooding from the creek. We now know that engineered structures such as this are not beneficial to the natural environment and the plants and animals that live here. Today, we try to let the creek ‘do its thing’. It is best for plants and animals and also reduces flooding.
We all live in a watershed and we have an impact on the amount and quality of water in our creeks. If much of the watershed’s area is covered by ‘impermeable’ surfaces such as buildings, roads, and pavements, rainfall cannot infiltrate into the ground, and that increases flooding and soil erosion. If toxic from industry, agriculture, or even home gardening, and cars reach the soil or our streets, eventually they will reach the creek and harm plants and animals. You can help in many ways. For example, reduce the amount of concrete in your yard and instead, plant a tree or a garden. Make sure that pollutants and trash don’t reach the soil or the creek. More on this in Point #6 – Stormwater Management.
And join one of The Watershed Project’s Creek Cleanup or Coastal Cleanup workdays! Sign up on our website. They don’t only help the environment, they are also fun.