Tice Creek: A Hidden Treasure

We have a hidden treasure here in Rossmoor. Drive along Rossmoor Parkway and you’ll see the terrain slope down to a lush green glen. Occasionally a glimmer of water can be seen. This meandering little stream is Tice Creek. Its source, fed by a spring and runoff from surrounding hills, trickles through a marshy area just south of the new tennis courts. It flows into Las Trampas Creek, a tributary of Walnut Creek.

A healthy creek is an irreplaceable natural resource and a wonderful amenity. Proper care of stream banks and riparian vegetation can enhance property, prevent erosion problems, avoid flood losses, preserve water quality and contribute to the survival of wildlife.

Flowing water is calming and soothing. While sitting by or walking along the creek, one can rediscover nature, finding quiet little oases hidden behind a vale of green. Or walk along a gurgling riffle while watching damselflies play tag. There are many benefits Tice Creek brings to our little valley.

Riparian Corridors

Riparian corridors function as sponges retaining soil moisture, recharging ground water supplies. Water stored in soil is released slowly back into streams helping maintain stream flow. This sustains aquatic life during dry seasons. Healthy riparian vegetation catches sediments and pollutants before they can reach the creek.

During rainy periods the creek provides flood control. Leaves, grass and limbs collect in the creek, recycling nutrients that support a diversity of aquatic life. A leafy canopy provides shade. The cooler water is hospitable to many organisms, and the cool, moist microclimate is also beneficial for many terrestrial species.

Stream corridors are among the most productive habitats. They are particularly important in arid and semi-arid landscapes such as Tice Valley. Tice Creek and its surroundings add to the diversity and abundance of plant and animal life in our valley. The roots of trees and other plants stabilize the banks against erosion. Aquatic insects and other invertebrates, fish, frogs and salamanders occupy the waters, while birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles inhabit the surroundings. The varied habitats along a creek, areas of riffles and still deep pools provide a variety of niches for wildlife.

Animal Migration Along Creeks

Creeks and surrounding habitats also provide important wildlife corridors allowing animal migration. Contra Costa County once consisted of a vast, open plain, populated by elk, pronghorn antelope, mule deer and grizzly bear. Tice Creek traversed the upper reaches of this plain. Steelhead trout migrated up its waters. Walnut trees, buckeyes, oaks, cottonwoods and dense patches of strawberries, blackberries and huckleberries bordered the creeks.

The hunter-gatherer Miwoks lived in harmony with this environment. Subsequent Spanish and American settlers introduced agriculture and cattle. Riparian plants were eaten and trampled by cattle causing instability and erosion. Subsequent urbanization brought creek diversions, dams and pollution, further degrading creek ecosystems.

In Rossmoor, the construction of buildings and the golf course necessitated rerouting of Tice Creek and caused sedimentation and erosion problems. As beautiful as our creek is, it is no longer a pristine environment. Invasive plants such as privet and English Ivy have crowded out native plants that support a healthy ecosystem. Run-off from hardscape and loss of stabilizing plants along the creek banks has led to serious erosion problems. Sediment from erosion, from roofs and lawns, as well as construction, reaches storm drains and is discharged into our waterways. Light and air cannot filter through to the streambed. These silts suffocate life-sustaining gravel habitats necessary for survival of fish eggs and aquatic insects.

In many areas of the creek, lack of shade warms the water, creating unfavorable conditions for many organisms. Pollutants are also a problem. Fertilizers can cause overgrowth of algae. Pesticides, detergents, motor oil and many toxic chemicals flow down gutters and storm drains into the creek, poisoning aquatic life. Diversions and disruptions such as dam culverts disturb the creek’s natural course and its inhabitants’ lives.

An Eco-System of Its Own

A healthy creek is a continuous system. If a creek is intermittently buried in a culvert or its flow is blocked by dams or debris, the stream system is disrupted, negatively impacting ecological diversity. Get to know our creek. Obscurity is one of the threats faced by unfamiliar areas like our creek. It is easy to turn a blind eye toward environmental damage in a place you never see.

The simple pleasure of creek walking presents us with an opportunity to get our community to embrace the creek as the precious resource it is. Taking a walk along the creek can be an interesting and enjoyable exploration–right here in Rossmoor. The simple pleasure of creek walking can be a rewarding experience for people of any age or interest. Whether you want to exercise, learn about nature, be inspired or simply get together with friends, the creek walk has something to offer everyone.

As residents of Rossmoor we have an opportunity to be good stewards of our creek environment. The way we treat the creek not only affects Rossmoor, but all waters downstream, including the bay and ocean. For those who enjoy nature and would like to help the creek, there are environmental groups like Friends of the Creeks that organize creek cleanups and help restore a more natural environment.

On Wednesday, Aug. 24, at 2 p.m. in the Club Room at Creekside, Lesley Hunt, a founding member of Friends of the Creeks, and Rossmoor’s new landscape manager, Rebecca Pollon, will speak about Tice Creek and its place in the Walnut Creek watershed.

This article first appeared in the July 20, 2016 Rossmoor News, author Ron Gallin

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