Bill Cook found his dream home in Pescadero in 1996. There was one problem. His house flooded. There were days his children would canoe to the bus stop and boogie board on the driveway.
Last Friday, the San Mateo Resource Conservation District officially marked the start of the dredging process along lower Butano Creek to alleviate flooding on Pescadero Creek Road and mass fish kills. Experts say the work won’t bring an end to flooding and it won’t save all the fish, but it’s a tangible step Pescadero residents have been anticipating for decades.
“People gave me minutes of meetings from 1980 and (I) could’ve taken those same minutes and put them in a meeting from 2000,” Cook said. “It’s the same conversations, the same frustrations, the same anger at the same agencies … and actually a lot of the exact same people at the meetings for all that time.”
The Butano Creek Reconnection project will remove the sediment that has filled the creek. As of this week, the team has brought in biologists to relocate wildlife from the area, dredging equipment has continued arriving and a temporary dam is now in place to assist with managing water levels.
The flooding is caused by a buildup of sediment, said Kellyx Nelson, executive director of the San Mateo Resource Conservation District. It has historically isolated the community from the fire station that sits across from the creek. Fish die because oxygen is depleted from the water, and the sediment blocks their migration paths.
At an event marking the beginning of work, Nelson opened her speech with the words “nine years.” That’s how long she’s been in charge of the project, but the issue started long before. After thanking Nelson, Assemblyman Marc Berman acknowledged the project’s limitations.
“I looked at the website and Kellyx and the RCD are very clear,” he said in his speech at the event. “We have to do more. It says this is everything the project does, and then these are the things the project does not do.”
While the project will help limit flooding and protect endangered species, it won’t solve all the problems. Flooding will still occur on Pescadero Creek Road, and the ecosystem will not be perfectly restored.
“Even if we did everything that we were supposed to, the fact of the matter is that it’s a community that’s in a floodplain and there’s climate change and sea level rise,” Nelson said in an interview.
Longtime community members Shannon Webb and Dante Silvestri voiced those concerns at the event.
“It is a maintenance issue,” Webb said. “And there’s no maintenance plan for this, right now. I have hope. That this happened at all gives me a lot of hope, but we definitely need to have an attitude of maintenance and care.”
“This gets our foot back in the door,” Silvestri said.
The dredging will take place this summer with the goal to finish this fall. It will not be a routine program, but it accompanies other projects RCD is working on to aid wildlife and reduce flooding along Butano Creek and Pescadero Creek.
“It’s an area where you want to be able to restore ecosystem process and hope that you can sort of kickstart the system to care for itself,” Nelson said in an interview.
“I think the primary goal for us is to build resilience for the community,” she added. “And by ‘community’ I mean the people and the critters.”