WATERSHED RESOURCES HOME PAGE
Welcome to the City of Berkeley Watershed Resources Webpage
This webpage contains general information for improving local watershed function and health. It also provides links to other websites regarding Urban Stormwater Run-off Management. This page will periodically be updated and expanded.
WATERSHED MANAGEMENT PLAN
The City of Berkeley has adopted the Watershed Management Plan (WMP). This plan is intended to guide City efforts to establish a healthier balance between the urban environment and natural ecosystems. The WMP builds on existing City activities by recommenfind policies and programs to meet the goals of: water quality protection, urban flooding reduction, natural waterways and habitat preservarion, and rainwater re-use promotion.
The full Watershed Management Plan and its associated documents can be found here.
Throughout California and other parts of the country, watersheds are recognized as ecologically, socially, and hydrologically integrated systems that warrant local management and planning activities. No matter where one stands on the land, it is part of a watershed, because the slope of the land will “shed” water towards the lowest point in the landscape.
Simply stated, a “Watershed” is the area of land where all water that is under it or drains off of it goes into a common waterbody, like a storm drain, a creek, or the San Francisco Bay. A watershed can be thought of as a large bathtub: When a drop of water hits anywhere in that bathtub, it eventually finds its way to the drain (the lowest point). In this instance, the bathtub rim defines the watershed boundary. On land, a watershed boundary is determined by topography—ridgelines or high elevation points—rather than by political jurisdictions. There are 10 watersheds (or drainage basins) in the City of Berkeley, some are shared by other municipalities (link to map).
In the City of Berkeley, the interconnections between natural resources and the shared urban setting present many management challenges. We all live, work, and recreate in a watershed and can improve its health by making wise decisions in everyday life, like using non-toxic pest control approaches, disposing of wastes properly, and allowing only rain water into storm drain inlets.
Seemingly harmless choices, such as littering, allowing automobile fluid leakage, and using or over-using toxic pesticides degrade watershed health.
URBAN STORMWATER RUNOFF MANAGEMENT
Stormwater is the flow of water on the ground immediately after precipitation - rain [or snowmelt - a very unusual event in Berkeley]. After a rainfall, some of the precipitation is infiltrated into the soil, some of it is taken up by plants, and some is evaporated back into the atmosphere, while the rest runs off land surfaces and other impervious areas, such as rooftops, parking lots, streets, and sidewalks. Stormwater management is the practice of efficiently channeling storm waters through the network of drainage pathways, both underground and on the surface and seeks to minimize pollutants that are often collected by urban stormwater run-off and conveyed through watersheds.
In Berkeley, stormwater run-off is collected and conveyed by roof gutters, downspouts, and street gutters into storm drain inlets and pipelines. Public Works installs, maintains, and repairs storm drainage infrastructure within the City right-of-way to convey run-off from private property, streets, and sidewalks. This drainage infrastructure (including storm drain inlets, catch basins, cross-drains, valley gutters, and 78 miles of stormdrain pipelines) reduces flood hazards to public and private property. The creeks and creek culverts within the City also receive stormwater run-off. The storm drain pipes, creeks, and creek culverts ultimately discharge untreated stormwater to San Francisco Bay. In Berkeley, the Storm drain pipelines are separate from the Sanitary Sewer pipelines (which carry wastewater to a treatment facility before its discharge to the Bay).
Local flood reduction and water quality protection are two challenges facing Berkeley’s aging storm drain infrastructure. The Watershed Management Planning effort will guide the City's efforts in addresing these issues. A promising strategy is the use of Low Impact Development and Green Infrastructure approaches. These approaches primarily use landscape-based methods to promote stormwater detention, retention, infiltration, and treatment near the run-off source, prior to entrance into storm drains. These methods can include: bioswales, permeable paving, underground stormwater storage, rain gardens, and rainwater catchment—all of which can be employed on public and private property
Very Large Rain Barrel Permeable Paving in Parking Lane
Bioswale in Planter Strip Rain Garden
The City currently implements a variety of stormwater pollution prevention measures (such as street sweeping, inspecting commercial/industrial facilities, regulating new and redevelopment activities, reducing pesticide use, and raising public awareness) designed to address common urban stormwater run-off contaminants, which include:
- Trash and Litter
- Motor oil
- Construction materials (i.e. concrete slurry and paints)
- Excess organics (i.e. fertilizers, leaves and grass clippings, and pet waste)
Public awareness is critical because the everyday choices and activities of Berkeley residents impacts watershed health. Often people consider stormwater to be a waste product that must be disposed of as quickly as possible. One of our goals is to shift this understanding to treat water as a resource, opening up a range of design possibilities both on public and private property that take advantage of the benefits of water for beautification, irrigation, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, and other uses. The Water Environment Research Foundation has created Basic Principles of Sustainable Stormwater Best Management Practices as an introductory resource for anyone considering drainage improvements on their property.
How Can You Help Protect Our Watershed Resources?
- Remember: Only Rain Down The Drain! Any pollutants on the ground can lead to stormwater pollution. Take all unwanted chemicals, paint, oil, etc. to designated collection sites.
- Report Illegal Dumping
- Pick up after your pet and throw the waste in the garbage.
- Keep your car leak free and in tune. Take your car to a carwash plumbed to the sanitary sewer instead of washing it in your driveway or on the street.
- Reduce pesticide pollution by using “Integrated Pest Management” (IPM) techniques, which encourage non-toxic methods of pest and vegetation control.
- Adopt-A-Storm Drain inlet (or two) to assist the City in removing blockages and potential contaminants in front of stormdrain inlets.
- Stencil local stormdrains with the message “NO DUMPING DRAINS TO BAY”
- Volunteer with a local Creek/Watershed Stewardship organization
For more information: Alameda Countywide Clean Water Program, Our Water Our World
Creeks naturally drain surface waters from watersheds. Creeks and riparian habitat are indicators of a watershed’s health. Berkeley has many creeks due to its unique topography, geology, and hydrology. All waterways, including creeks and creek culverts, eventually discharge into San Francisco Bay, which connects to the Pacific Ocean. This connection allows Steelhead Salmon to continue to migrate up into the Codornices Creek Watershed, and hopefully others in the future.
The majority of open creeks in the City remain on private property in the Berkeley Hills areas. A significant portion of creeks was placed into culverts, underground pipes along the historic path of the creek, during the early 1900’s by developers. Codornices Creek and Strawberry Creek are two creeks that are most publicly accessible as they run through public parks.
Like any property-owner, the City of Berkeley is directly responsible for managing creek environments in a manner that protects the creeks’ beneficial uses where a creek runs through a City-owned parcel. Beneficial uses (as described by the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board) can include:
- Aquatic and Wildlife Habitat
- Fish migration and spawning
- Contact and non-contact water recreation
Berkeley is home to an ethic of restoration and protection of natural resources in urban settings. The groundbreaking Strawberry Creek Restoration Project at Strawberry Creek Park in 1983 is considered to be the first "daylighting” (the removal of a culvert to restore creek functions) project in the country. Since then, the City has participated in several other local creek restoration projects including: Blackberry Creek at Thousand Oaks School (1995) and multiple projects on Codornices Creek between the railroad tracks and 9th Street. Planning for additional restoration work on Lower Codornices Creek (west of San Pablo Ave) is underway.
In 1989, the City enacted its Preservation and Restoration of Natural Watercourses Ordinance, BMC 17.08, also known as the Creek Protection Ordinance. The ordinance was revised in 2006 after a lengthy public process, led by the Council-established Creeks Task Force. The affect of the ordinance is to regulate and minimize further structural encroachments into sensitive riparian zones, which can support a rich diversity of plant and animal life. These regulations provide a setback that allows for a buffer zone to be maintained between the natural channel and upland development.