West Coast
NATIVE PLANTS: A crew of California Conservation Corps workers (pictured) helped plant more than 1,400 native plants at the Chorro Creek Ecological Reserve. via The Morro Bay National Estuary Program

CA - Conservation Groups Complete Chorro Creek Restoration Project, Benefiting the Morro Bay Watershed

Chorro Creek is one of the two major waterways that flow into the Morro Bay estuary. So, naturally, its health is inextricably linked to that of the bay's.

For years, a stretch of Chorro Creek near Hollister Peak ran through active farmland, where its flow was diverted for irrigation and its banks were shored up by levees, blocking the water's natural access to its floodplain.

When the California Department of Fish and Wildlife took over ownership of the 5-acre site in the early 2000s—renaming it the Chorro Creek Ecological Reserve—conservation agencies knew that the creek and its floodplain needed restoration. Among other issues, a side channel had formed at a break in the levee, which allowed excess sediment to flow in and ultimately pile up in the estuary.

"While sediment is beneficial to ecosystems, too much can cause problems," explained Carolyn Geraghty, restoration projects manager for the Morro Bay National Estuary Program. "Our estuary has been filling in at an unnatural rate. Too much sediment in the estuary is a problem for the eel grass habitat."

After nearly two decades of planning and fundraising, the Estuary Program and its partners recently completed a major restoration of the site.

"Part of the solution was re-grading the floodplain to remove that sediment source," Geraghty said.

According to a Sept. 9 press release issued by the Estuary Program, the restoration project "repaired a major source of erosion, ... relocated 24,000 cubic yards of sediment to construct floodplain habitat, ... restored and expanded the natural floodplain, ... and planted more than 1,400 native trees, shrubs, and other plants."

Funded by two state fishery grants, the project also received contributions from the State Coastal Conservancy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the California Conservation Corps, whose members worked on-site to plant the native vegetation in the floodplain.

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