Brush Creek project leaves stark results

There's not much brush left along a section of Brush Creek, scoured clear of vegetation earlier this month as part of a flood control project.

Bulldozers and excavators removed tons of sediment, and chainsaw-wielding workers felled trees and removed bushes and shrubs from a 200-foot stretch of the creek between Highway 12 and Montecito Boulevard.

The results are stark. The creek bed has been stripped of virtually all plant life. The once well-shaded waters of Brush and Austin creeks are now exposed to full sunlight much of the day. And the walls of the channel are virtually barren, with only the mature trees left in place along the upper banks.

But officials say the work was necessary to preserve the flood control capacity of the creek, and predicted that the vegetation will bounce back soon following restoration efforts and winter rains.

"Yes, right now it looks drastic and harsh, but by next spring you won't know anything's been done," said Jon Niehaus, manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency's stream maintenance program.

The work was just one of dozens of projects the agency undertook this summer as part of its stream maintenance program.

Several feet of sediment had built up in the creekbed at the confluence of Brush and Austin creeks, reducing the flood control capacity of the channel that has confined the creeks since the 1960s, Niehaus explained.

It had been years since the water agency performed work at that location, leaving the area completely overgrown with blackberry bushes, cattails and willow trees, some of them several inches in diameter.

Because the creek is confined to a channel, it can't redeposit sediment elsewhere as a natural creek would. The sediment builds up year after year, and at this location trees were growing not only along the banks but in the creek bed itself, Niehaus said.

"In order to get that capacity back, you've got to get out that material, and in order to get that material out you've got to remove the trees," he said.

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