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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.

click to enlarge NATIVE PLANTS A crew of California Conservation Corps workers (pictured) helped plant more than 1,400 native plants at the Chorro Creek Ecological Reserve. - PHOTO COURTESY OF  THE MORRO BAY NATIONAL ESTUARY PROGRAM
  • Photo Courtesy Of The Morro Bay National Estuary Program
  • NATIVE PLANTS A crew of California Conservation Corps workers (pictured) helped plant more than 1,400 native plants at the Chorro Creek Ecological Reserve.

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.

Those plants, according to the press release, will help slow down the flow of stormwater, allowing it to percolate into the groundwater and provide a healthier habitat for the wildlife in Chorro Creek, including steelhead trout and red-legged frogs.

Those protected species will benefit from having easier access to the floodplain, Geraghty said.

"It's usually low-lying areas where the creek will spill over, and those extra water nutrients can provide high-quality habitat adjacent to the creek," she said. "It provides fish a different habitat if they want to chill out on the floodplain. They get some refuge on the floodplain that they can't get as easily on the main channel."

The restoration project took years to plan and execute, with its design funded in 2015 and implementation funded in 2018. Geraghty noted its value to the overall health of the Morro Bay watershed and how rare an opportunity it was.

"There's not a lot of land left in the watershed where you can do this scale of a project," she said.

Fast facts

The Community Foundation of SLO County started a Fire Relief Fund for donors who want to support those impacted by the recent wildfires across California. All administrative fees are waived for this urgent assistance. For details, visit cfsloco.org or call (805) 543-2323.

• RaceSLO, which put on events like the SLO Marathon, the SLO YogaMusic Fest, the SLO Ultra Trail Races, and the Central Coast Cancer Challenge, is up for sale. Founder Samantha Pruitt announced that she is "looking to transition leadership into new hands," according to a press release. "RaceSLO has been a true love affair," Pruitt said. "There is no doubt that we changed our community for the better and powerfully impacted thousands of humans for good. ... As we begin transitioning into a new post-pandemic event space, a new visionary leader should take the reins and carry on our legacy." Interested parties can reach Pruitt at samantha@raceslo.com.

The SLO Noor Foundation recently received a $25,000 grant from the Delta Dental Community Care Foundation to help with COVID-19 response in the community. Delta Dental, an oral health care company, gave $3.4 million to 68 organizations around California in the round of grants. The SLO Noor Foundation provides free health and dental care to uninsured local residents. Δ

Assistant Editor Peter Johnson wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to strokes@newtimesslo.com.

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