Thursday, December 21, 2017

Happy Holidays!

The California Toyon brightens the December watershed landscape with its vivid red fruit, commonly called the” Christmas Berry.” The berries themselves are precious wintertime food for multiple bird and animal species, while the abundant foliage provides shelter for nesting and cover from predators throughout the year. 
Elsewhere along the reservoir, some Sawyer Camp Trail regulars get into the spirit with decorations for a trailside holly tree. Both the Sawyer Camp and San Andreas trails are expected to be open through the Holidays. (For updates, please check

Happy Holidays to all of you from all of us.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The King of the Watershed

It's at the top of the watershed food chain. But the mountain lion is solitary and reclusive.  So, though our staff may spot signs of its presence—like tracks, scat, or scratches on tree trunks—they rarely spot the big cat itself. Instead, they’ve set up remote trail cameras that capture an occasional image.

Since mountain lions are largely nocturnal, what nighttime images turn up are dark and muddy at best. So watershed keeper Sarah Lenz was thrilled to find this daytime shot on one of her cameras. “They’re definitely active during the day too,” she said. “We feel lucky to see such a secretive watershed resident from time to time.” 

The 23,000-acre watershed, with its connections to adjacent Peninsula open space, allows for the kind of  wide-ranging wildlife corridor that’s so vital for mountain lions and other large mammals requiring a large territory to roam. 

Mountain lions feed on a variety of other animal species, from deer to raccoons and mice. They hunt alone and attack from behind. After killing their prey, they’ll  bury what they don’t eat and come back to feed on the rest when they’re hungry. Mating is usually from December to March, with a female raising her litter of two to four kittens on her own.  The kittens remain with their mother for up to 2 years before setting out to establish their own territories.   

Friday, December 1, 2017

San Andreas Trail Closure Extended to Dec. 8

The San Andreas Trail closure has been extended to Friday morning, December 8, including the weekend of December 2-3, for additional pipeline repairs and restoration of the trail surface at repair sites. 

This closed segment,between Larkspur Drive and  San Bruno Avenue, is scheduled to reopen on Friday morning, December 8. 

Cyclists please continue to use alternate routes during this time. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Art from the Watershed

A felled Peninsula Watershed eucalyptus tree has gone on to a new existence as a permanent sculpture by a local Bay Area artist.   

The original eucalyptus comes from a previous habitat restoration project in the southern part of the watershed, where stands of the non-native species and other invasive growth were removed from the lands around Homestead Pond.

The artist, Evan Shively, has created a system for using a whole tree and works with reverence for his salvaged materials. When you saw a tree, he said, “It dictates where it wants to be cut.” 

Homestead Pond, once a vital breeding habitat for threatened California red-legged frogs, had declined over the years. But now restored grasslands and healthy young coastal oaks are providing renewed foraging and shelter for both the frogs and the endangered San Francisco Garter Snake (considered by some as “one of the most beautiful serpents in North America” ).

Friday, November 3, 2017

Hunting and Gathering on the Watershed

These days we’re collecting acorns from local mature Coastal Live Oak forests in the vicinity of Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir. They’ll be nurtured in a nursery for about a month before the December planting. The young saplings will sprout through 6-foot-tall protective tubes, with the future new forest eventually occupying a total of about 19 acres. 

Our crews also just finished hydroseeding about 44 acres with native grass seed mixes, spread out across four different locations along Upper and Lower Crystal Spring reservoirs. The mixes--which varied from site to site--consisted of several  grass species, including some collected from the watershed. The straw-filled fiber rolls, shown in the same photo, slow stormwater runoff and prevent erosion into streams, drainages and the reservoir. 

In all, the Habitat Restoration Program will bring back about 180 acres of native grass, wetland and Coastal Live Oak forest 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. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sawyer Camp Trail Update: South Entrance Reopens for Weekday Use

The Sawyer Camp Trail southern entrance will reopen for weekday use, starting Friday evening, October 27,  p.m. There is a possibility that the County of San Mateo will require a second weekday closure at a future time. 

Coyote Point Ranger Station: 650-573-2592

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ready for Rain, Acorn Plantings, and a New Native Forest

About 13 acres of newly cleared Peninsula Watershed land are slated for acorn plantings, with a healthy young oak forest to follow. 

Protective 6-foot tubing 
The small green flags you see in the top photo mark the sites for the upcoming plantings by hand. There will be one acorn for each 1- to 2-inch hole, spaced about 15 feet apart. We’ll insert a tall, 6-foot tube over each to help the young seedlings grow straight and strong, while safeguarding them from deer, rodents and other wildlife. 

The acorns will come from existing mature watershed oaks, and they’ll be nurtured in a nursery for about a month before the December planting. Irrigation pipes are already in, and we’re also ready for rain with straw-filled fiber rolls. The fiber rolls slow stormwater runoff and trap the sediment away from creeks, drainages and the reservoir. 
Irrigation piping and fiber rolls

Just next to the future new woodland, we also recently converted about 60 acres of land to grasslands, a wetland, and a creek.  

The two adjoining projects follow a recent clearing of large stands of invasive non-native trees in the same area. The work is part of an extensive Habitat Restoration Project to bring back about 180 acres of native grass, woodland and wetland 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). 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Life on the Watershed: Native Turtle Hatchlings on the way Home

It’s time for newly hatched Western pond turtles to be making their way across the grasslands, from nest to permanent reservoir home. 

Digging a nest above San Andreas Res.
The mother digs out the nest a little way from shore in early summer, and then returns to the water while her eggs incubated in the warm covered sands for the next several months. The young turtles are on their own from the start but seem to know where they’re destined to be for the next several decades. 

Western pond turtles can live up to 50 years in the wild, and won’t reach maturity for six years or more.

The Peninsula Watershed is home to an abundance 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, October 6, 2017

San Mateo County to Close Sawyer Camp Trail Weekdays October 9 -- 27

The San Mateo County Parks Department will close the south half of the Sawyer Camp Trail weekdays, from Monday, October 9  through Friday, October 27, for public safety due to San Mateo County construction activities. 

The closure will be in effect from the Crystal Springs entrance to the gate just beyond the Jepson Laurel at the trail’s approximate midpoint. Weekday cyclists should use alternate routes during this period 

The entire trail will be open for weekend use Friday evening, October 13, 5 p.m., through Sunday, October 15, 8 p.m., and  Friday evening, October 20, 5 p.m., through  Sunday, October 22, 8 p.m.  
Information and Updates: 
Coyote Point Ranger Station: 650-573-2592;   

The Crystal Springs Dam Bridge Replacement Project 
The County of San Mateo’s Crystal Springs Dam Bridge Replacement Project is under the jurisdiction of the County of San Mateo’s Public Works Department. The replacement follows the 2014 completion of several SFPUC Water System Improvement projects to upgrade the Lower Crystal Springs Dam and other nearby facilities. Because the previous 1920s bridge had been determined as seismically unsafe, the County demolished it before the SFPUC began its upgrades. The bridge reopening is currently scheduled for August 2018. 

For further information and updates, please visit the County of San Mateo Department of Public Works website at

Friday, September 29, 2017

Migration on the Watershed

It's migration season. The Peninsula Watershed can be a good place to see a few or more colorful birds that aren't usually around the rest of the year.  

September through early October is peak migration season here in the Bay Area for multiple species of birds passing through on their way south from their northern breeding ranges to the warmer wintering grounds.  

Flying long distances in a single day or night, many will stop for a few days at various woodsy Bay Area spots to refuel for the next leg of the journey. Some species glean insects from tree leaves or bark, while others dart out from a perch to catch flying prey in the air.  
The abundance of insect life, native trees and other greenery makes the watershed an attractive rest area for birds on the move. If you're out on the trail, here are some typical western migrants that you might spot before they move on. 
Photos, top to bottom:  Yellow warbler; Black-throated gray warbler, Western tanager; Pacific slope flycatcher 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Trail Update: Temporary Closure of San Andreas Trail September 26 – 29

The paved portion of the San Andreas Trail, between Larkspur Drive and San Bruno Avenue, will be closed from Tuesday, September 26, through Friday, September 29 for a pipeline repair.  

Cyclists should use alternate routes during that period.    

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bald Eagle Report: 2017

The breeding pair of Bald eagles returned to the watershed to nest and reproduce again this year—though this time it was an only chick. 

It was the fifth year in a row that the pair had nested here--after a more than 100-year absence of the species from  San Mateo County. 

Though the young eaglet won’t be returning to the nest, it will continue to hunt in and near the watershed for another few months. It will keep its uniform brownish mottled color before acquiring the distinctive white head at full maturity in four years.    
Bald eagles mate for life, and—because they can live up to 30 years in the wild—chances are that one or more of our pair's progeny will return to the watershed too, when ready to nest and reproduce.  
Update: Last week's San Francisco rare bird alert reported “a juvenile Bald eagle soaring with Peregrine Falcon and Red-shouldered Hawk” above Lake Merced. Could it have been ours, checking out the neighboring terrain? 

Keep watching.  

Friday, September 8, 2017

Clearing Away for Wetland and Native Woods

People have been asking about the tree clearing along the reservoir just to the north of Highway 92. 

The approximately 80 non-native, invasive trees are being removed to restore a stretch of natural wetland that over time will again nurture and sustain water- and shoreline-dwelling wildlife. We’ll also bring back several acres of adjacent native grassland. 

Starting next week, you’ll also be able to see another tree-clearing project from Highway 280 near Trousdale.  We’ll be removing mostly eucalyptus trees, and replacing them with historic native grasses and Coastal oak woodland. 

Threatened California red-legged frog.
The work at both sites is part of the Peninsula Watershed Habitat Restoration Program to bring back native environments—and the plant and wildlife communities that depend on them—at different locales throughout the watershed. The SFPUC will maintain the new plantings and monitor their performance for up to 10 years.

The 23,000-acre Peninsula Watershed is home to a diversity of native California plants, insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and animals, including the highest concentration of rare, threatened or endangered species in the nine-county Bay Area.  The watershed is also designated a State Fish and Game Refuge. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Jepson Laurel: Centuries-Old Natural Monument Marks Sawyer Camp Trail Midpoint

The Jepson Laurel, known to be at least 600 years old, marks the Sawyer Camp Trail midpoint. At 55 feet in height, and some 22 feet around, it’s the largest laurel in California. 
It stands just north of where one Leander Sawyer kept an inn called Sawyer Camp in the 1850s and ‘60s. The establishment provided lodging for horsemen and wagons, as well as food for daytime picnickers. Old-timers said that Sawyer and his wife Sophia lived nearby in an adobe cottage close to a natural spring. Sawyer also grazed cattle in the area to control the brush and maintain access for incoming wagons. Today nothing remains of either the camp or the Sawyer dwelling.

The Jepson Laurel stays on, monitored and safeguarded by our natural resources staff. It is named after distinguished  UC Berkeley early botanist Willis Linn Jepson.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Peninsula Watershed Photo Friday - Stone Dam

For this Photo Friday, we thought we’d highlight one of our lesser known dams in the Peninsula Crystal Springs Watershed – Stone Dam.

This small dam was built in 1871 approximately two miles away from Pilarcitos Dam (which was constructed in 1866).

Spring Valley Water Company constructed Stone Dam to take advantage of the lower Pilarcitos Creek Watershed. Water impounded at Stone Dam on San Mateo Creek impounds about 5 million gallons of water (in contrast to nearby Pilarcitos Reservoir which can store 1 billion gallons of water).

Happy Friday!

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;;