Petaluma city leaders are hoping a regional water agency grant can turn a small section of a creek into a more effective flood control channel and a heartier riparian habitat.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday night to seek an $825,000 grant from the Bay Area Integrated Regional Water Management Plan to rehabilitate Capri Creek, one of the many tributaries that collect rain and flood runoff and feed into the Petaluma River.

The grant program, whose funding comes from a statewide bond issuance in 2006, provides money for local projects to meet long-term water needs and for protection of water quality and the environment.

In conjunction with the recent Federal Emergency Management Agency flood-plain remapping process, the city identified seven small-scale projects to reduce overflowing creeks and provide habitat enhancement, Public Works Director Dan St. John said.

Capri Creek between North McDowell Boulevard and Maria Drive, about a third of a mile long, was selected as a top priority for the funding. It is adjacent to the Sunrise Parkway open space and community garden.

The project area has "minimal vegetation and habitat qualities," St. John said.

"It's maintained, but it has bulrushes in it," he said, describing it as a step up from a drainage ditch.

A Sonoma County Water Agency regional committee already approved a feasibility study and permitting and design costs of $217,000. The total project cost is expected to be $1.1 million.

Councilmen Chris Albertson and Mike Healy questioned why a small project like this -- one whose rehabilitation won't significantly improve flooding downstream -- was prioritized.

"This is probably a worthy project," Albertson said. "But why this and not others? There is ample work to be done. I see this as a step, but I don't know that it would be my first priority to dump $800,000 into."

St. John said the grant also is meant to improve water quality, remove debris and sediment, repair riparian habitat and encourage stewardship of the creek. This project was ready to be implemented.

He said the work on Capri Creek won't be extensive enough prevent it from flooding in a 100-year flood, but it will help with smaller, more frequent flooding incidents.

The work would provide for reshaping or "terracing" of the creek banks, remove fill to reduce overflowing, then add trees and native shrubs. That would provide shading of the low-flow areas and create habitat for birds, riparian mammals and other species, he said.

The grant would fund three years of irrigation and monitoring of the newly planted vegetation, sponsor two cleanup days a year and encourage neighborhood residents' stewardship in the long term.

Work could begin next year.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or

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