A city project to control erosion along Lower Buck Gully also will restore the area’s natural landscape and remove birds that threaten other bird species by laying eggs in their nests, according to a Coastal Commission staff report.
The staff recommends approval of the project, which will be discussed at the Aug. 10 Coastal Commission meeting. The project involves placing wire-mesh baskets filled with river rock in the lower part of Buck Gully and installing rock structures in the upper bend of the creek. The effort will divert run-off and could prevent homes from sliding down the hillside if a major storm caused serious erosion.
But the project also will restore the area’s natural habitat, which has undergone major changes since the 1990s, the staff report states.
“Historically, Buck Creek was an ephemeral creek,” the report states. “However, since the 1990s, the hillsides of the watershed have been developed with single family residences and the Pelican Hill Golf Club. Irrigation associated with this development has resulted in additional inputs of water to the creek, so that now the creek runs perennially, with flows equaling approximately 17 million gallons per month during the dry season.”
The change to an area with yearlong water flow has caused “significant erosion and degradation of the canyon,” the report states.
The wet conditions also have resulted in native species being replaced by invasive plants.
“Invasive species and non-native species are located throughout the project site, and biodiversity as a whole at the site is reduced,” the report states.
One specific problem reported by a Coastal Commission ecologist is the presence of cowbirds in the area.
“Cowbirds do not build their own nests but instead lay their eggs in the nests of other species, usually to the detriment of the host birds’ own eggs or young,” the report states. “The presence of cowbirds at the site is likely impacting the survival rates of other native birds at the subject site, and would result in impacts to any listed species which may occupy the site in the future.”
City officials agreed to implement an eradication program, which involves placing cages to trap the cowbirds and releasing them later in their native area.
The project, if approved, would begin in September. Construction would take about four months, with another six months of planting and maintenance, said Assistant City Engineer Robert Stein.
Crews will not be allowed to block access to the Little Corona Beach restrooms for construction staging. But they will be allowed to build a temporary road from the restroom area to the bottom of the canyon, according to the report. After construction, the road would be removed and vegetation would be planted.
The Coastal Commission meeting will take place in Watsonville’s CIty Hall Council Chambers at 275 Main Street. The meeting is open to the public and will be streamed live on the Coastal Commission website.