Friday, December 23, 2016

Season’s Greetings: Native Christmas Berries Light Up the Watershed

Small wonder they’re called “Christmas Berries,” for this time of year is when they're at their peak, and they're everywhere along the Sawyer Camp Trail.     

They’re the fruit of a hardy native shrub, the Toyon, which thrives in oak woodland surroundings. While they’re brightening the watershed surroundings for the rest of us, the vivid hue also alerts the neighborhood wild that the season of holiday feasting is here.

The Toyon is one of the few native plants that provide winter food for fruit-eating birds, such as robins, thrushes, jays, hummingbirds, and more. Those flurries of activity draw in the mammals (which are color blind but love the berries too).  And all return the hospitality by dispersing the berry seeds elsewhere in winter-wet soils, where they take root before the dry weather sets in. 

The dense shrubbery also provides safe habitat for bird nests, along with cover for other species, and black-tailed mule deer nibble the
young green sprouts.

The robust evergreen usually ranges in height from 6 to 12 feet, but in shady area  can grow to more than 30 feet in quest of sunlight.   

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Peninsula Region!!

Here’s a schedule of what to expect for construction over the holidays for the Regional Groundwater Storage & Recovery project:
  • No construction work from December 23, 2016 through December 26, 2016 at any well sites.Work will resume on December 27, 2016 through December 30, 2016. 
  • No construction work from Saturday December 30, 2016 through Monday January 2, 2016. Work will resume on January 3, 2016.

For the Bioregional Habitat Restoration project:
  • There will be no SFPUC work at the Sawyer Camp Trail through January 3, 2016.
  • Any concerns with access to the trail should be directed to the San Mateo County Parks & Recreation Department at (650) 573-2592.

As always please don’t hesitate to contact us at (866)973-1476, or email or with any questions.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Life on the Watershed: Eater, Beware

The rains bring out the California newts—brownish amphibians that over the dry months have holed up in hollow logs, rock crevices, burrows and other safe, moist woodland havens. Now they’re on their annual pilgrimage to the breeding waters—the small, still pond or stream where they themselves were hatched. 

Like other amphibians, they begin life as larvae, with external gills for breathing. As they become adults, they develop lungs for life on land. When they first leave the waters, they’ll be away for about three years before braving their own first yearly return.  

Many of the adults we see now are making the weeks-long trek on tiny legs across miles of boulders, fallen trees, dense clumps of grass, fences, and other obstacles. Good thing they’re equipped with the famous salamander ability to regrow a lost tail or other limb (along with a heart, liver, spinal cord, brain part, lung part, or lens of an eye).

The resilient newt is fortunate in another key survival aid—a highly potent toxin. The odor it sends out and the bright orange belly give others the message, “POISON—Eaters, Take Heed.” And most do.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Dead on the Watershed: Our Fertile Snags

“Why are all those dead trees still here?” a Sawyer Camp Trail walker asked us as he eyed the newly restored habitat for the first time. 

Actually, you’ll see them all along the trail—snags (tall, dead and bare standing trees) that we’ve purposely left in place throughout the habitat restoration area and elsewhere in the watershed. 

In death, they are more of a natural resource than ever for an abundance of other life. Their loose bark harbors beetle, ants, and other insects that are food for birds, rodents and animals. Butterflies, bats and small animals find shelter there too.

Cavities drilled by woodpeckers become nests for swallows, flycatchers, and other “secondary cavity-nesters." With bills too small to drill their own nests, they depend on holes put there by others. Male songbirds sing out from open limbs to attract mates or declare nesting territory. Hawks and Bald eagles perch high on a snag to guard a nearby nest and watch for prey.  Trunk hollows become winter dens for raccoons, squirrels and other small animals.

Also in the restoration area, we’ve left scatterings of logs to decay where they are for the same reasons. As the wood decomposes, its nutrients mix into the soil, making it more fertile for healthy new plants.
Insects, salamanders, snakes, and mice take shelter in the rotting logs, and they in turn are prey for other, larger species. During the rains, the damp rotting wood and leaves give rise to mushrooms and other fungi. And the mushrooms are food for everything else—from insects to mammals--including deer in severe winters when other foraging is scarce.

In short, that dead wood provides more sustenance for the neighborhood wild than it did in life.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving Thanks for the Activists of Tomorrow

This Thanksgiving we’re grateful for a new wave of young environmentalists—like these three students from a nearby middle school  They’re focusing on a year-long "Animal Allies" project featuring the rare and endangered wildlife of the Peninsula Watershed, and they're sharing their findings and pictures with the rest of us at

 A favorite species--they said during a recent visit to the Sawyer Camp Trail--is the Marbled murrelet, a California-endangered seabird. For their nests, murrelets gravitate to one particular Peninsula Watershed canyon. Cloaked in pristine old-growth forest, it is a unique locale that provides the heights, dense canopy and seclusion the secretive species needs to reproduce. 

Check out what the middle school team says on murrelets, the watershed’s nesting Bald eagle pair,  the ”amazing”  Mountain lion, and more at the link above. 

Thanks, Allies, for helping to lead the way!.  

 Marbled Murrelet photo by: Mojoscoast

Friday, November 18, 2016

Life on the Watershed: The Mystery of the Migrating Monarchs

It's called the "king of the butterflies."

We still see Monarch butterflies at this time of year, gliding gracefully by on the watershed and other local green areas. They’re actually on the road, traveling miles per day (sometimes 50 miles, 100, or even more). Destination: their ancestral wintering grounds

These late fall Monarchs differ from others we see in spring and summer in one critical attribute—longevity. Hatched in September or October, they’re now in migration and will live six to eight months (as opposed to their spring and summer forebears that feast on the nectar of seasonal flowers for a brief few weeks before dying).

The fall butterflies are the fourth generation. And they’re making the same journey as their great great grandparents did the year before. The wintering grounds themselves are certain stands of tall trees where up to thousands of  Monarchs cluster every year to hibernate. 

How they know just where to go four generations later is one of  nature’s mysteries.

They’ll emerge from hibernation in February or March, and reproduce to launch the next cycle of migrants northward (each of the next three generations traveling further north). Then, next year at about this time, the fourth-generation descendants of the butterflies we’re seeing today will make the same long journey south,   

Destination: the same wintering grounds. .     

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Last of the Seeding

November 10—Crews finished hydroseeding the last of the Habitat Restoration work area along the Sawyer Camp trail this morning. The trail remained open, while pedestrians and cyclists proceeded with a little more caution than usual as they made their way past the equipment. The hydroseed is a native grass mix sprayed onto the newly exposed slopes.  New young grasses are already sprouting  throughout the 22-acre area, and all of them should  be fully established by early spring. We’ll continue to watch out for returning invasive non-native vegetation, and acorn plantings will follow. 
Faces on the Trail: Following the morning's  progress was the SFPUC's Project Construction Manager Molly Vora. She and others on our construction team frequently bike the trail to the work site instead of driving. They cut back on inconvenience to others, minimize their carbon footprint—and get exercise too.   

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sawyer Camp Trail Alert: Watch for Vehicles Thursday Morning, November 10

We will complete the last section of hydroseeding in our habitat restoration area, near mile marker 2, Thursday morning, November 10, approximately 9 a.m to 12 noon (weather permitting).

The trail will remain open to through traffic, but please watch for vehicles, a barricade, and/or a traffic control monitor in that area. Signs will be posted at the trail entrances.

Hydroseeding spreads seeds from native plants so that by the spring the area will be restored with native plants and grasses.

Thank you for your continued cooperation and understanding.    

Friday, November 4, 2016

November Dresses Her Best for Sawyer Camp Trail Reopening

The toyon bushes were garnished with bright red berries, newly hydroseeded grasses were already greening the slopes, clusters of black-tailed mule deer grazed the plentiful new food supply, and people were loving it all. 

It was the first day of November, and the first in three months that a mid-section of the Sawyer Camp Trail was open again for weekday use. Some walkers even stopped to admire the straw-filled fiber rolls, which will naturally decompose over time. They are there to prevent erosion and keep stormwater from flowing into drainages, creeks and the reservoir.

The approximately 2-1/2-mile segment had been closed Mondays through Fridays for public safety during habitat restoration on nearby watershed lands. The job included the removal of about 22 acres of non-native invasive acacia trees that, over the decades, had choked out and displaced the original oak woodland forests.

Another key component of our restoration is what we've left in place—like the tall dead trees shown in the distance at left. Hawks and other raptors will perch there to watch for prey or guard their young in nearby nests. Also left behind were large downed logs that will decompose into various stages of woodsy debris--and habitat for various wildlife species. 

Our workers will finish hydroseeding native grasses on the newly exposed slopes next week. Acorn plantings and healthy young forests will follow. 


Friday, October 28, 2016

Sawyer Camp Trail Reopens for Weekday Through Use November 1

It’s no trick—you’ll be able to work off your Halloween treats the next day, when the entire Sawyer Camp Trail will reopen for weekday through use. 

The Tuesday, November 1 reopening follows the three-month closure of a southern trail mid-section on weekdays for public safety during habitat restoration.

Our crews will continue to work in the area, and one more closure of the mid-section, for a few hours only, may be necessary later in November.  Signage will be posted at the trail entrances.

Also coming up is a brand new resurfacing of the trail’s entire southern half by spring 2017. This will require a closure from the southern entrance to the Jepson Laurel for approximately two weeks, and notices will be posted in advance. 

Over the next couple of years, we’ll also keep watch for any re-sprouting of the invasive, non-native acacias. Acorn plantings will follow as soon as the area is ready for them.   

The work in the Sawyer Camp Trail vicinity is part of a long-term project throughout the watershed to bring back and maintain about 180 acres of native oak woodland and grassland habitats—and the many plant and wildlife species that depend on them.

Our thanks to the Sawyer Camp Trail community for your patience and cooperation!  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Watershed Habitat Restoration Area Now Ready for Rain

Our habitat restoration crews got out ahead of the recent mid-October rains with the installation of fiber rolls like these along the horizontal contours of the slopes above the Sawyer Camp Trail. .  

During rain, the straw-filled fabric rolls slow the flow of the runoff and trap the sediment uphill behind them, safely away from creeks, drainages, and our reservoir.  

Our fiber rolls will naturally decompose over time, and we’ll be planting new native oak forest as soon as the area is ready for them.  

Other stormwater control measures we’re taking to protect the quality of our water include gravel bags around storm drains, erosion control matting on slopes, and hydroseeding disturbed areas.

And, thanks to those recent rains, patches of new green grass are already coming up!  

Thursday, October 20, 2016

San Andreas Trail Alert: Closed Oct 31 thru Nov. 4

The San Mateo County Parks Department has announced a temporary closure of the San Andreas Trail, from San Bruno to Larkspur, October 31 through November 4, for hazardous tree removal.  For further information, please call the Ranger Station at 650-573-2592.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Remembering Loma Prieta – And Preparing for the Next Big One

Monday, October 17th is the 27th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The 6.9 magnitude quake shook the earth for 15 seconds, took the lives of 67 people and injured almost 3,000 more. There was an estimated $6 billion in property losses. We here at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission have been preparing for the next big quake ever since.

As the owner and operator of the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System that serves water to 2.6 million people in four Bay Area counties, we have worked for more than 10 years to repair, replace, and seismically upgrade vulnerable portions of this system as part of the $4.8 billion Water System Improvement Program (WSIP). The program itself is more than 90% complete. Our water system is safer and more reliable today than it was 10 years ago, let alone 27 years ago. Our promise is that we can deliver minimum demand to our customers within 24 hours after a major earthquake. We can make good on that promise because of WSIP.

Here’s just a few reasons why:

* The Bay Tunnel is a seismic lifeline carrying water under San Francisco Bay. It was brought into service on time and under budget in October 2014.

* The New Irvington Tunnel carries water between our East Bay and Hetch Hetchy supplies and our Bay Area Customers. Located between the Calaveras and Hayward Earthquake faults, this seismically designed tunnel allows us to take the existing 88 year-old tunnel out of service for maintenance.

* A new Bay Division Pipeline #5 connects to both of these new tunnels in the East Bay and on the Peninsula to provide greater delivery reliability to our customers. It replaces two pipes that were constructed in 1926 and 1935.

Wait, that’s not all!

Our Harry Tracy Water Treatment Plant treats water from the Crystal Springs and San Andreas Reservoirs for more than one million customers in northern San Mateo and San Francisco counties. Upgrades at the plant include new filters, a new 11 million gallon treated water reservoir, and various other hydraulic, mechanical and electrical upgrades. The Harry Tracy Water Treatment Plant can now reliably provide 140 million gallons of water per day, for 60 days within 24 hours of a major earthquake.


The new 11.5 million gallon treated water reservoir is one of the improvements at the Harry Tracy Water Treatment Plant on the Peninsula.

Our Peninsula customers are served by several large water transmission pipelines, some of which are the oldest and most crucial parts of the system. The Peninsula Pipelines Seismic Upgrade Project addressed this issue by upgrading the most vulnerable portions of several of these pipelines.


Crews install a pipe segment in the Peninsula to improve the pipeline’s reliability, especially during an earthquake.

This work is never done. We will continue to replace and upgrade our system pipelines, pump stations, and treatment plants even after the WSIP is complete. We’ll worry about your water so you won’t have to.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Life on the Watershed: Dragonfly Weather

                                                    Flame skimmer

The Peninsula Watershed  is home to a wealth of different insects, including colorful dragonflies that can be drawn out on warm fall days to hunt and feast on other insects. 

Watch too for migrating birds doing the same thing as they pass through on their way south.  

                                                                                        Yellow warbler        

Friday, September 30, 2016

New Grasslands Coming near Sawyer Camp Trail

                                      Spraying the hydroseed mix of native seed, wood fiber, tackifier and water. 

This week our habitat restoration crews began hydroseeding newly opened areas above the southern half of the Sawyer Camp Trail.

The young native serpentine grasses will begin sprouting within a couple of weeks, and be well established by next spring-- assuming some rainfall and other favorable conditions. We’ll keep watch for regrowth of the invasive acacias for the next year or two, and then plant acorns for future native forests.

The approximately 20-acre replanting in the Sawyer Camp Trial vicinity is part of a larger restoration project to bring back about 180 acres of native oak woodland and grassland at several different Peninsula Watershed locations. The historic habitats provide essential food and shelter for a variety of native plant, butterfly, bird and other wildlife species (some found nowhere else in California).

The fresh young plantings will be steadily maintained by our staff to promote healthy establishment, and we'll monitor their performance for several years after that.   

Friday, September 23, 2016

Watershed's Oldest Dam Still Going Strong

It was San Francisco’s first water source outside City limits. 

Pilarcitos Dam—situated deep in the Peninsula Watershed’s remote Pilarcitos Canyon—turned 150 this year. It survived the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989 with no damage, it’s still in service today, and planning is under way to extend its operating life for years to come. 

Today, the 1866 earth-fill dam holds Pilarcitos Creek raw water for delivery primarily to the Coastside County Water District in Half Moon Bay, with some water also diverted as supplemental supply to Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir. Water releases from the dam also improve downstream fish habitat, and the secluded woodsy canyon is a safe haven for nesting Marbled murrelets.   

Friday, September 16, 2016

Life on the Watershed: Watch for Baby Snakes along the Sawyer Camp Trail

It’s been called “one of the most beautiful snakes in the U.S.”

And the early fall is when the endangered San Francisco garter snake numbers are on the rise, with females giving birth to about 16 young each.  The baby snakes are about 5 to 7 inches long at birth, the ones that survive will reach adulthood at age 2, and they can grow to about 3 feet in length.

The protected San Mateo County species travels between vegetation or burrows and nearby bodies of fresh water (such as Crystal Springs Reservoir). Its favorite food is the tree frog, but it also likes other amphibians, including bullfrogs and the California newt, which is poisonous to most earth species.

The San Francisco garter snake is not dangerous, and—if you’re lucky enough to encounter one along the trail some September day—chances are it will slither away to safety quickly.  So watch it while you can!

Photos 1 and 2 by Elizabeth Larsen, USFWS.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Gathering and Sowing Native Seeds

Here crews are harvesting hayfield tarplant –a common native grassland species--near the eastern shore of the Lower Crystal Springs Reservoir. They will be part of a special seed mix that we’ll disperse nearby to help restore habitat later this fall when the soil is wet from the first rains and the weather is cool. 
Other native grass and forb seeds we’ve been collecting for the mix include yarrow, yampah, tufted hair grass, and Crystal Springs lessingia. We use locally harvested seeds for our new habitat sites whenever possible because they are so well suited to our watershed’s unique climate, soils, and hydrological conditions .

Later this fall, watch for the displays of Crystal Springs lessingia. Though rare, it happens to be abundant on our watershed’s serpentine grasslands, where it produces swathes of pink or lavender along I-280 when it flowers in the fall. 

                                Crystal Springs lessingia in bloom.

The removal of non-native trees and understory plants continues along the mid-section of the Sawyer Camp Trail through October. We’ll be hydroseeding those newly opened areas with native serpentine grass seeds too—and acorn plantings will follow.   

Friday, September 2, 2016

Life on the Watershed: The Return of the Bald Eagles

A breeding pair of  Bald eagles returned to the watershed this year and has successfully reproduced again. Three healthy eaglets—the largest number yet—fledged this year. 2016 was the fourth year in a row that the pair had nested on the Peninsula Watershed. 

“They were missing from San Mateo County for more than 100 years,” according to watershed keeper Sarah Lenz. “Our watershed has the land and resources to provide a good home for them and allow their chicks to sustain themselves and thrive.”

“It’s a testament to how we preserve the habitats that give wildlife a chance to stay wild without pressure from humans,” watershed keeper Peter Panofosky added.

Though the eaglets have left the nest area, they will continue to fly and hunt in the general vicinity. 

Our 2016 Crystal Springs eaglets will keep their brownish mottled color for the next few years before they acquire the distinctive white head at age four and full maturity. One or more could return as adults to start another nest in the protected lakes of the watershed.

Bald eagles mate for life, and—because they live up to 30 years in the wild—chances are that more eaglets will begin their own long lives on the Peninsula Watershed in future years.    

Friday, August 19, 2016

Wildlife Protection Fence along Sawyer Camp Trail

If you’re on the Sawyer Camp Trail mid section when it’s open for through use on weekends or a holiday, you’ll see our Wildlife Exclusion Fence (WEF) enclosing the entire Habitat Restoration Project  area.  

This specially designed woven fabric fence prevents endangered San Francisco garter snakes, California red-legged frogs,and other reptiles, amphibians and small animals from entering the work area. Mesh funnels at the fence base, placed approximately every 100 feet, allow them to exit the area safely, while the narrow opening with a one-way flap at the end prevents them from returning. The WEF also prevents silt from flowing into adjacent drainages.

An environmental inspector monitors the work area for compliance with various environmental requirements, and our biologists check for the presence of special-status species and other vulnerable wildlife, such as roosting bats, nesting birds, and San Francisco dusky-footed woodrats. Active bird nests are protected by a buffer zone around the tree until the young successfully fledge from the nest. 

Wildlife Exclusion Fencing minimizes the potential for harm or injury to state and federally listed species near the work area. It is required by State and Federal permitting resource agencies and the California Environmental Quality Act for construction projects where such special status species may be present.

The fence will be taken down after the vegetation removal is finished later this year.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Temporary Closures of Sawyer Camp Trail Mid-Section Start Aug. 1

A mid-section of the Sawyer Camp Trail, from approximately mile 1-1/4 to mile 3-1/2 (by the Jepson Laurel) will be temporarily closed on weekdays for public safety during tree removal in preparation for habitat restoration over the following period:

Monday-Friday, August 1 through October 28, 2016

The trail will be fully open on weekends and holidays. 

Though through use will not be available on weekdays, the trail will still be open on those days for about the first  1-1/4 miles from the south entrance at Crystal Springs Road,  and for 2-1/2 miles from the north entrance at Hillcrest. 

Bicyclists wanting through access should use alternative routes during this period.  

Chalcedon checkerspot butterfly
This work includes the physical removal of approximately 22 acres of non-native invasive trees that have choked out and displaced the original watershed forests.  It is part of a long-term project throughout the watershed to bring back and maintain about 180 acres of native oak woodland and grassland habitats, and the diversity of plant, bird, butterfly, and other wildlife species that depend on them. 

Looking for an alternative?

Check out the San Andreas Trail, just across the paving from the Sawyer Camp north entrance at Hillcrest. The first 0.7-mile southern segment is unpaved and not open to cyclists (who can take  the frontage road just east of I-280). The rest is paved and extends all the way to San Bruno Avenue. You’ll pass through a variety of habitats, from evergreens to coastal scrub and grassland, and the further north you go, the better the vistas of our northernmost reservoir, the San Andreas.  

Questions:  (866) 973-1476;;

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Peninsula Pipeline Project Receives Top Project Award!

San Andreas Pipeline No. 3 installation in San Bruno

Water & Wastes Digest selected the Peninsula Pipeline Seismic Upgrade (PPSU) Project as one of their Top Projects for 2016! Congrats PPSU project team, hopefully this is the first of many awards!

The PPSU project repaired and replaced several sections of water delivery pipelines in northern San Mateo County, to ensure these critical pipelines can withstand a major earthquake. This project completed all WSIP work in February 2016.

For more information about this project, visit 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sawyer Camp Trail Reopens for Weekday Through Use

The mid-section of the Sawyer Camp Trail that has been temporarily closed for habitat restoration activity is open again for daily use through the month of July.

The trail will be open every day, sunrise to sunset. However, pedestrians and cyclists are requested to be on the lookout for trucks on weekdays, when we will be hauling away vegetation. Please make room for them to pass safely during those periods.

When You Go

Watch for crimson-capped Acorn woodpeckers maneuvering and tapping various oak or other hardwood trunks and branches in nearby open areas. Named for the acorns it hoards in multiple tree cavities it drills, the Acorn woodpecker is just one of many native California species sure to flourish in the watershed’s expanded oak woodland habitat.

Future Trail Schedule

The second temporary partial closure (and the last of the long ones for habitat restoration project) is scheduled to begin in August. The same mid-section of the trail, from about mile 1-1/4 to mile 3-1/2 will be closed to through use for public safety, Monday through Friday, for removal of non-native trees until late October. The entire trail will be open all weekends and holidays.  

As during the first closure, the trail will be open for the first 1-1/4 miles from the South Gate at Crystal Springs Road, and for approximately 2-1/2 miles from the North Gate at Hillcrest. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Happy Fourth of July!

On behalf of all of us here at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, we want to wish you a happy and enjoyable Independence Day!

As you prepare for the holiday weekend, we want to take this opportunity to update you on our holiday schedules for two important construction projects in the Peninsula.

Bioregional Habitat Restoration on the Peninsula:

  • Sawyer Camp Trail will be completely open starting the morning of Saturday, July 2 through the entire month of July.  
  • The partial trail closure will be back in place starting Monday, August 1 it the same location for ongoing habitat restoration.

Regional Groundwater Storage & Recovery (GSR) Project: 

  • No construction activity at any of the sites on Monday, July 4 in honor of the holiday
  • Normal construction will resume on Tuesday, July 5

Friday, June 17, 2016

Temporary Weekday Closure of Sawyer Camp Trail Segment Still in Effect

A short section of the southern half of the Sawyer Camp Trail remains temporarily closed to through traffic weekdays, from approximately mile 1-1/4 to mile 3-1/2, Mondays through Fridays.  The closure is in effect up to July 1 for public safety because of large equipment in use to prepare an adjacent area within the Peninsula Watershed for habitat restoration.

Meanwhile the first mile and a quarter from the entrance continues to be well used by midweek
hikers, strollers and cyclists. The trail is fully open on weekends. 

The work is part of a long-term project to bring back, monitor and maintain approximately 180 acres of native oak woodland and grassland.  The historic Peninsula habitats provide essential food and shelter for diversity of native California plant, butterfly, bird, and other wildlife species, some found nowhere else in California. 

This first closure will end by July 1, with a second one scheduled to begin  some time in August or September. A repaving  of the trail’s entire southern half will follow. 

Questions:  (866) 973-1476.