Friday, August 11, 2017

Sightings on the Watershed

Two Double-crested cormorants sun their spread wings to dry during a late summer afternoon on the San Andreas Reservoir. The pastime can be a common site around the watershed. 

Since the black seabirds are at home in both salt water and fresh, the watershed reservoirs provide ample small fish for food. During the spring breeding season, they’ll display the tufted crests they’re named for.  

Friday, August 4, 2017

Life on the Watershed: Bobcats,Young Cubs, and Watershed Health

The bobcat cubbing season is over. But the juveniles will be around for another several months, doing their part to sustain watershed health. 

When the cubs reach 8 to 11 months of age, the mother will evict them from her territory. The medium-size feline is distinguishable by its short bobbed tail. The Peninsula Watershed with its expanse of diverse vegetation is ideal habitat for these
predators, which are big enough to take down small deer but still agile enough to grab darting rabbits and other small animals.

Since they’re so high on the food chain, bobcats sustain a robust habitat by keeping the ecosystem balanced. They weed out species lower on the food chain, which otherwise would increase and overrun  the food resource. Then, while some starve, the rest of the population weakens and the gene pool declines.

It’s an effect that keeps trickling down to lower species, and eventually the plant communities as they get overgrazed. And that deprives critical lower forms, like earthworms--the recyclers. They're the ones that decompose dead leaves and other organic matter into smaller pieces, enabling  stored nutrients to  be  released back into the soil. The renewed soil replenishes the plant life, and the recharge works its way back--to the bobcats and on up.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Making Way for the Natives

Crews remove a grove of non-native invasive pine trees from an approximately half-acre site on the Peninsula Watershed between Black Mountain Road and Highway 280. We’ll hydroseed the area this fall with a special mix of native grass seed. Plantings of other species indigenous to the Crystal Springs area may follow later. 

The work is part of a long-term habitat restoration project at different sites throughout the watershed to bring back and maintain about 180 acres of native grass and woodland habitats--plus the diversity of plant and wildlife species that depend on them.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Life on the Watershed: Nesting Turtles

A reservoir native—the protected Western pond turtle—has just finished this year’s nesting, while the next generation gets ready for  life on its own.  

The females have dug into sunny sandy areas not far from the lake shore, laid their eggs, and gone back to the water. The eggs incubate in the warm sands for about three to four months. The tiny hatchlings will make their way to the water in the fall. Those newborn females won’t reach maturity, and begin their own nesting, for a good six years or more.  

The Peninsula Watershed is home and refuge to a multitude of native California wildlife species and has the highest concentration of rare, threatened or endangered species in the nine-county Bay Area. The Western Pond Turtle is designated a “species of special concern” by The California Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Landscape Update for El Camino Real

Plans are underway to plant 15 coast live oaks along with attractive new groundcover on our pipeline right of way along El Camino Real between Southwood Drive and Orange Avenue in South San Francisco. The future trees are replacements for several we removed at that site to install a new groundwater pipeline as part of the Regional Groundwater Storage and Recovery Project (GSR). 

The new trees are scheduled for planting this coming October, when fall wet weather will increase their chance of survival. Groundcover will go in by the end of November, along with a new non-climable fence. 

The GSR includes the construction of up to 16 new recovery wells and associated facilities on the Peninsula. This project is the result of a landmark agreement between the SFPUC and City of Daly City, City of San Bruno and California Water Service Company to help manage the South Westside Groundwater Basin. In wet years these entities will use Hetch Hetchy water in place of their groundwater supplies to allow the aquifer to store up to 20 billion gallons of water for use in times of drought.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Firefighting on the Watershed

SFPUC Peninsula Watershed keepers joined San Mateo and Santa Cruz county firefighters in a recent training session, when the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) conducted a controlled burn in the vicinity of the San Andreas Reservoir Dam. The several-hour drill gave the approximately 40 participating first responders vital experience in fire suppression techniques, firing methods, and wildfire behavior. CAL FIRE managed the burn under strict weather and moisture conditions. The Sawyer Camp Trail was closed during the training. 

CAL FIRE and watershed staff coordinate throughout the year on preventing and responding to fires and other emergencies on the watershed and neighboring lands. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

The 4th of July Waters that Didn’t

The 4th of July should have been an anniversary for the ages—commemorating the flow of the first outside drinking waters into San Francisco.

At least that was the intention in 1862, when construction of a brand new dam on the Peninsula Watershed--the Pilarcitos--was rushed to time the arrival of the first Peninsula waters with the nighttime fireworks. While the fireworks went off on schedule, the water didn't start coming in until early the next morning on July 5. 

Previously the young, fast-growing city had relied on sources within its own boundaries, such as Lobos and Islais creeks, Mountain Lake and various wells. It was the Spring Valley Water Company (one of several private utility companies serving the people of San Francisco) that first looked to the neighboring Peninsula as an abundant source of additional drinking water.  

That first dam was soon replaced by another four years later. The second one survived the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989, and is still in service today.

It holds Pilarcitos Creek raw water primarily for delivery to the Coastside County Water District in Half Moon Bay. We also release reservoir water to improve fish habitat downstream. Some also still goes to the SFPUC's Crystal Springs Reservoir and the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System for supplemental supply. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Life on the Watershed: The Most Social of Them All

They are the most social of birds
Acorn woodpeckers live in tight clans and share stored acorns for food—as well as mates and the raising of the young in one common nest inside a tree cavity.

They’re year-round residents of the Peninsula Watershed, where the mixed oak/conifer forests provide abundant acorns as well as large trees with soft bark and dead trunks or limbs for storing them. Each acorn nut is stored in its own hole, When an acorn dries out and shrinks, the woodpecker moves it to a smaller hole—so that simply maintaining the granary is a constant activity.

Their abandoned nesting and roosting holes become homes for other native breeders: such as tree swallows (at left), along with chickadees, bluebirds and other “secondary cavity nesters." Woodpecker holes are also adopted by chipmunks, Western fence lizards, Gopher snakes, and some amphibians, 

Good places to see and hear Acorn woodpeckers are open slopes with scattered oaks and dead trunks or other bare limbs. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Temporary Closures of Sawyer Camp Trail

There will be several short weekday partial closures of the Sawyer Camp Trail during the next two weeks, between June 20 and June 28. 

The San Mateo County Parks Department will close the  southern half of the Sawyer Camp Trail, from the Skyline entrance to the Jepson Laurel (near mile marker 3.5) Tuesday-Wednesday, June 20-21.  Park crews will also add more rock plus bender board to the shoulders, from the entrance to about mile marker 1, to make the sloping more gradual. 

The northern half, from the Hillcrest entrance to the Jepson Laurel, will be closed for mowing Thursday-Friday, June 22-23. 

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will close the southern half of the Sawyer Camp Trail for one more day, Tuesday, June 27, to paint a new center line. 

Finally, just north of the Sawyer Camp Trail, the Parks Department will close the San Andreas Trail, from Hillcrest to San Bruno Avenue, for mowing Tuesday-Wednesday, June 27-28.

No weekend closures are scheduled. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

June on the Watershed: California Buckeye Bursting Out

It’s a showpiece of the watershed. The deciduous California buckeye tree is in its full pink and white bloom, and the fragrant blossoms are an annual staple for others in the oak woodland community. 

The nectar draws more butterflies than any other native plant, and the pollen is feast for a diversity of bumble bees, beetles and other native insects. The Echo blue butterfly lays its eggs on the new unopened bud, which then becomes host for the larvae that live on the flowers, pollen and young fruit. The multitude of early summer invertebrates are in turn forage for numerous resident and migrating birds, and the abundant foliage will provide safe nesting habitat.   

Buckeye flowers and other parts of the tree have toxins that our native bees and other insects are immune to. But the European honeybee isn't, and beekeepers maintain their hives at a distance.

Early in the year, when the toxin level is low, deer and other mammals will nibble young leaves and shoots but avoid mature growth. Then, when the leaves yellow and fall to the ground, they lose the toxins and are once again high-protein food for others.

The seeds—big glossy “bucks eyes” that emerge from their husks in
the fall—are the largest of any California native plant (and very poisonous).   

Friday, June 2, 2017

Peninsula's Emergency Responders Gather at Pulgas Water Temple

They came from San Francisco to the north and as far south as Ben Lomond in Santa Cruz County. They were police officers, fire fighters, sheriff’s deputies, park rangers, watershed keepers, and others—here at Pulgas Temple for the SFPUC Peninsula Watershed’s annual first responders’ meet-and-greet reunion, organized by the watershed’s community liaison John Fournet.

Watershed staff people team with those agencies on day-to-day issues of trail management, tree clearances and public safety as well as the unforeseen forest fires, injuries, and other emergencies. 

The SFPUC owns and operates the 23,000-acre watershed plus 200 miles of Bay Area pipeline right of way. We give our partner agencies the access routes they could need at any time in case of emergency, according to the watershed’s manager Joe Naras. Our watershed keepers—trained responders as well—help with fires or other disasters on neighboring lands and come with emergency drinking water vehicles when needed.  “These are the times when people come together,” Naras said.

The Pulgas event is a standing occasion for renewing bonds and getting acquainted with newcomers. “This way,” Naras told the crowd, “we don’t meet for the first time when something happens.”   

Friday, May 26, 2017

Repaved Sawyer Camp Trail to Reopen Saturday Morning, May 27

The Sawyer Camp Trail's newly repaved southern half will reopen tomorrow morning, Saturday, May 27. We'll be closing it again for one more weekday some time later in June to paint the center stripe. Signs will be posted in advance at the trail entrances.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has repaved the trail’s entire southern half and, in partnership with the San Mateo County Parks Department, restored the adjoining shoulders with new gravel.  

Our thanks to the  Sawyer Camp Trail family for the patience and support!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Sawyer Camp Trail South Half Still Closed--Looking for an Alternative?

The southern half of the Sawyer Camp Trail is still closed for repaving, this weekend and through May 26, from the Skyline entrance to the Jepsen Laurel. So check out the San Andreas Trail instead.

A short 0.7-mile unpaved section just to the north of the Sawyer Camp Hillcrest entrance takes you to Larkspur Lane and the entrance to the approximately two-mile paved trail past the San Andreas Reservoir to  San Bruno Avenue. 

The northern half of the Sawyer Camp Trail is also open, from the Hillcrest entrance to the Jepsen Laurel.

On the Sawyer Camp Trail, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is repaving the surface of the entire southern half, and restoring the shoulders. It will reopen for the Memorial Day weekend.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sawyer Camp Trail South Half to Close for Repaving May15 - 26

The southern half of the Sawyer Camp Trail will be closed for repaving for about 3-1/2 miles, from the Crystal Springs entrance to the Jepson Laurel every day, May 15 – 26, including the weekend of May 20-21. 

The northern half, from the Hillcrest entrance to the Jepson Laurel, will be open every day. 

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will repave the surface of the entire southern half of the trail, and restore the adjoining shoulders. 

The trail may also be closed for one more weekday some time after the Memorial Day weekend so that crews can finish painting the center stripe.  Signage will be posted in advance.

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

Thank you for your patience and support.  

Questions: (866) 973-1476;;

Friday, May 5, 2017

Trapping the Local Steelhead

It’s a gem of an urban creek with an endangered species running right through downtown.   

Biologists Scott Taylor (left) and Aaron Brinkerhoff discuss what's been trapped today.   

Any day—Monday through Sunday, rain or shine—one or more of our biologists will be out on San Mateo Creek with the trout.

The creek flows down to the bay from the Crystal Springs Reservoir through suburbs and downtown San Mateo as well as parts of the Peninsula Watershed. The SFPUC is dedicated to year-round restoration of both creek and critters that live there. We've been releasing small, prescribed amounts of water daily from Lower Crystal Springs Dam into the creek for habitat improvement since 2015, and lead biologist Aaron Brinkerhoff says conditions keep getting better.

These days, Brinkerhoff and team are trapping, then releasing, young so-called “steelhead"--the ones that migrate out to sea. (The rest in the same species are “residents," also known as “rainbow” trout. They'll stay in the fresh water of their birthplace all their lives.)

“This little urban creek is such a gem,” Brinkerhoff says.  “We have an endangered species running right through the neighborhoods."

The trap is set early each spring. That’s when the young steelhead—called smolt—enter certain physical changes that equip them for salt water. They’re now four to eight inches long, they’ve taken on  the silvery hue that distinguishes them from the residents, and they’re moving downstream. The hope is that they’ll survive the three years at sea and return home to spawn.

So any smolt happening into the trap is quickly and gently weighed, measured and implanted with an electronic tag for lifelong tracking. The young captives are kept in cool creek water during the process to minimize any stress before they’re released to continue on their way. “Even a small sample tells us a lot,” Brinkerhoff says. “Over time we’ll be able to see how the population is doing.

“This creek has a unique asset, and that’s our daily flow release. It’s like having a savings account of water.”

Friday, April 28, 2017

GSR Project is Going Very “WELL!”

Check out the evaluation —WELLvolution, if you will, of the Regional Groundwater Storage & Recovery (GSR) project’s Linear Park Well Station.  

In April 2015, construction kicked off at the Linear Park site in South San Francisco. This particular well station involved drilling 620 feet and installing over 120 feet of pipeline. Construction challenges aside, after two years of hard work, the well station infrastructure and landscaping are complete. Now the team will focus on conducting extensive testing for the station to make sure the well is operational.  

Linear Park is one of 13 well sites nearing completion as part of the first phase of the GSR project.  It is anticipated that this phase of work will be completed in this fall. The project team is currently investigating three additional well sites as part of the next phase of this work. The entire GSR project is expected to reach final completion summer 2019.

     In July 2015, workers installed steel rebar to prepare for the wall pours at the
                                              Linear Park Well Station.

          One month later, August 2015, the wood and steel frames for the 
                                        well station were complete. 

      By July 2016, the concrete walls were built and the well pump was installed.

        By March 2017 the landscape has grown in and the site is almost complete.

About GSR

GSR includes the construction of up to 16 new recovery wells and associated facilities on the Peninsula. This project is the result of a landmark agreement between the SFPUC and City of Daly City, City of San Bruno and California Water Service Company to help manage the South Westside Groundwater Basin. In wet years, these entities will use Hetch Hetchy water in place of their groundwater supplies to allow the aquifer to store up to 20 billion gallons of water for use in times of emergency or drought.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Life on the Watershed: Lizards, Lyme Ticks and Us

They’ve been hibernating through winter, but the new clear weather is bringing out the sun-loving Western fence lizards--which happen to lower our risk for Lyme Disease. 

From grassland to brush and forest, we spot them basking on rocks, logs, trail-side benches, and other open areas—where they can be easy prey for certain birds and small mammals. But the native reptile has protective devices too, like quick reflexes and the ability to scurry quickly into a crevice or other shelter. It can readily discard its tail to get away--and the tail will grow back.  
Spring is mating season, when males establish and defend a territory. The "push-ups" we see them do are indicators of another nearby male, or a female. Females lay eggs, which hatch in mid- to late summer.

Western fence lizards eat spiders and insects. In turn, they are favorite hosts for tick nymphs--and that's a good thing for us.

It turns out that Lyme disease (carried by a tick species called the deer tick) is much lower out here in Western fence lizard country. That's because there's a particular protein in the lizard blood that permanently kills off the Lyme-causing bacterium inside the young insect, So only a small percentage of adult deer ticks are Lyme carriers.


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Easter Wildflowers on the Watershed

Areas of serpentine soil are currently yielding a profusion of native wildflowers along the Peninsula Watershed ridges.

Serpentine soil is derived from California’s state rock—the greenish metaphoric serpentine rock originating from the earth’s mantle. Serpentine rock outcrops are closely associated with California fault lines. The soil is high in magnesium and iron, but low in calcium, aluminum, and nutrient-rich clay, so that it is thin and inhospitable to many plant types. Its plant communities are typically composed of stubby, low-growing native grasses and small herbaceous plants.

Conversely, serpentine soil attracts a variety of native wildflowers—many of them rare or endangered—that thrive in the extreme conditions so unfavorable to many of their more common or non-native competitors. To check out this year’s serpentine displays on the Peninsula Watershed, join a guided hike or bike ride along the Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Life on the Watershed: Nesting Season Under Way

The Peninsula Watershed is home to an abundance of diverse native birds and, after the rainiest winter in decades, spring nesting season is now under way. 

The wet weather has caused some of the hawks and other larger species here on the Peninsula to hold off a little longer than usual this year. But smaller songbirds have begun to nest, and the  tiny iridescent Anna’s hummingbirds are some of the first.   

The roughly 2-inch-diameter hummingbird nest, deep in the  greenery of trees or shrubs, is made of such materials as plant fibers, downy feathers and animal hair bound together with spider silk. Tufts of lichen woven into the exterior help to camouflage it from predators. It’s the female who builds the nest and raises the young alone, without assistance from the male.

For the most part, Anna’s hummingbirds are year-round residents. Their high-frequency wing beat allows them to hover by one flower, gleaning the nectar with a long thin bill—and even longer extendable tongue—before they dart off to the next flower, and the ones after that,  pollinating as they go.  

Friday, March 31, 2017

Spring Forward along Watershed Ridge Trail

Catch vivid springtime green ridges, carpets of wildflowers, ocean vistas and more along the Peninsula Watershed’s Fifield-Cahill Ridge Trail.

Access is by reservation only, with docent-led events scheduled for certain Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. They can range from native plant or birdwatching strolls  to fitness hikes and rides. Among the activities scheduled so far between now and June are two 8-mile round-trip- hikes, a 13-mile one-way hike along the entire trail and a 13-mile but hilly and rigorous bike ride. Events are limited to a maximum of 20 participants; click here to reserve your space. For more specifics on what to expect, visit here.

AND, if you want to tailor a day on the watershed to your particular interest or  pace, consider joining our corps of volunteer trail leaders. Application forms are available here, at the bottom of the page. Or contact our Ridge Trail Program Manager John Fournet,, for more information on these and other opportunities.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Sawyer Camp Trail Update: Spring Weeds, Work, and Wildflowers

After all the welcome rain, it’s no surprise that weeds have returned to the watershed, and our crews are back too along the Sawyer Camp Trail. They’re taking out a new groundcover of freshly re-sprouted acacia seedlings, along with different invasive thistle species and poison hemlock. Though a small truck might at times be parked on a shoulder along the trail, community trail use will not be affected.  We'll be planting acorns--with healthy young native oak forests to follow—as soon as the ground is ready for them.  

So, if you go:  late March is a great time to watch for a seasonal highlight—the showy Indian Warrior currently dominating the oak woodland understory along the trail’s southern half.  A cousin to the popular red-orange Indian Paintbrush, this native wildflower seems to have a particular affinity for another oak woodland community regular—the manzanita—and will flourish at the base of the manzanita’s shiny reddish trunk.  It’s said that Indian Warrior was once used by Native Indian Warrior was used by some Native Americans as a muscle relaxer.     

Friday, March 17, 2017

Life on the Watershed: The Inimitable Lichen

Freddy Fungus met Annie Alga, and they took a lichen to one another.    
They made their home in a nearby native oak,
and were always there to support their woodland community neighbors.

There’s nothing else quite like it. Two separate organisms (a fungus and an alga) combine into a totally different life form—lichen. The two original parties coexist in mutual dependence: the fungus is on the outside to capture water and minerals from the atmosphere for the alga within,while the alga produces food for both of them by photosynthesis. Together, they are a ready friend to other oak woodland community dwellers. 

We see different species of lichen  in various colors on rocks, trees and other surfaces—but  only where the air is clean enough for it to survive, like the Peninsula Watershed. Always especially noticeable is the pale greenish lace lichen, drooping in thick long strands from nearby native oaks.

Lace lichen may look like a parasite that’s weakening or killing the tree. But it’s actually a source of extra nourishment because its broad surface area captures nutrient-rich dusts blowing in from the ocean. Rains then wash the accumulated oceanic dust into the ground, where soil bacteria break down the nitrogen for the tree roots to take in. (Trees with lace lichen are healthier and grow faster.) Lichen photos by Shelly Benson  

Along the tree’s branches, lace lichen harbors spiders and insects,which are food for various birds. Some bird species, like house finches, tuck their nests inside lichen clumps, where eggs and checks are protected from predators. 

Others, like hummingbirds, will line their nests with lace lichen, or weave its strands along the outside. Voles and other rodents use it to line their nests, and fallen lichen pieces are food for deer, rabbits and other woodland animals.

For us, the presence of lichen is an indicator of clean, healthy air. Pollution will kill it off.  

Friday, March 10, 2017

Historic Unfailing Dam Ready for Next 130 Years

                                          Lower Crystal Springs Dam after the 1906 Quake

It was built to last. The 1888 Lower Crystal Springs Dam, situated next to the San Andreas Fault,  survived two major earthquakes—the great earthquake of 1906 and the Loma Prieta in 1989—with no damage.  A critical recent upgrade plus our vigilant 24/7 operation ensure that the historic 175-foot-high dam is able to safely contain Crystal Springs Reservoir drinking water even in a year of record rainfall.

The main upgrade under the Water System Improvement Program was the widening of the spillway—an emergency device for the safe release of water during heavy rains—on top of the dam. The new expanse gives us the ability to release 2.5 times more water than before—if necessary. But again, a spillway is an emergency feature---and one that we haven’t had to use for decades, according to SFPUC Local-Regional Water System Manager David Briggs. 

The real safeguard is the day-to-day monitoring, anticipating and adjusting by our system operators.  They open valves to release controlled amounts of water into San Mateo Creek, and divert water northward to San Andreas Reservoir (at left), on to the Harry Tracy Water Treatment Plant (below), and then to customers. They continually forecast the anticipated amount of rain and runoff into the reservoir and assess that inflow’s impacts on reservoir level.  As needed, our operators will  release controlled amounts of water from the dam—but always taking into account the timing of high tides coming up the creek from the bay.   

We’ve been releasing water from the reservoir this way all winter, and have not come close to spilling water over the dam. 

The San Mateo Daily Journal talked with Briggs a couple of weeks ago.  You can read more on what he had to say about the safety of historic Crystal Springs Dam and our regulation of the water system here