Sausal Creek Watershed
OverviewThe Sausal Creek watershed begins as a series of ephemeral creeks 1,300-1,500 feet above sea level in the Oakland Hills. Its three main tributaries drain the western slope of the East Bay hills and are bounded by Snake Road and Montclair Village to the north, Skyline Boulevard to the east, and Joaquin Miller Road, Lincoln Avenue, and Fruitvale Boulevard to the south. Its natural channels course through Dimond Canyon and Dimond Park and then dive under Interstate 580. In the Oakland flatlands, culverted sections of the creek channel alternate with open stretches of creek before disappearing into the last culvert at East 22nd Street. Finally, the creek emerges into the Oakland Estuary at the tidal channel that separates the city and island of Alameda from the mainland.Download PDF map
Flora and Fauna
Sausal Creek is an urban creek that still has stretches lined with native trees and habitat and a small population of rainbow trout. Habitat communities include riparian, oak woodland, redwood forest, grassland, chaparral, and northern coastal scrub. Visit the Friends of Sausal Creek (FOSC) website for species lists and reports on native, non-local native, non-native, and rare plants, as well as mammals, fish, and aquatic insects of the Sausal Creek watershed.
Geology and Hydrology
The upper portion of the Sausal Creek watershed has steep hills with a variety of rock types due to the tectonic plate processes that formed the Coastal Range. Below Highway 13, several faults, including the Hayward Fault, create the valley and Oakland flatlands where Sausal Creek spreads out into an alluvial fan. The mean annual precipitation (MAP) of the Sausal Creek watershed is about 24 inches. For a more in-depth look at the geology and hydrology, see the Sausal Creek Watershed Enhancement Plan on the FOSC website.
Major issues include erosion, invasive plant species, littering, and illegal dumping. For maps and more information, download A Watershed Approach to Urban River Restoration: A Conceptual Restoration Plan for Sausal Creek, by Teresa Ippolito and Kristen Podolak.
“The entire Sausal Creek hydrologic system has been affected by watershed urbanization. Many of its creeks now flow only underground and most are an integral part of the City’s storm water drainage system. All of the major creeks in the upper watershed have also been modified through channelization, culverting, and the construction of weirs and drop structures.” – Martha E. Lowe, 2000
Major Creeks & Waterbodies
Above Highway 13, the Sausal Creek watershed divides into three main basins named after their major creeks: Shephard, Cobbledick, and Palo Seco. These three creeks meet near Highway 13 and become Sausal Creek.
Cobbledick Creek and its tributaries have open channels with seasonal flows. Most of the creek is on private residential land. It runs along Scout Road and joins Shephard Creek to become Palo Seco Creek, which runs through Joaquin Miller Park to become Sausal Creek. The native shrubs and trees include toyon, manzanita, oak, and madrone.
Escher Creek is a locally named ephemeral tributary to Shephard Creek. Shepherd Canyon Homeowners Association is working to remove invasive plants, reduce erosion, and establish native plants along the creek. The creek originally flowed under the soccer field in Shepherd Canyon Park; now it curls around the north edge of the meadow to meet Shephard Creek in its culvert.
Palo Seco Creek
Palo Seco Creek is in the least developed of the four sub-basins. The majority of trees here are coastal redwoods and willows with blackberry in the understory. The creek channels for the most part remain open and unculverted. Palo Seco Creek has high quality aquatic habitat due to a great diversity of aquatic insects. A small population of rainbow trout lives in lower Palo Seco Creek.
Sausal Creek starts at the confluence of Shephard Creek and Palo Seco Creek, flowing almost straight south until it reaches the Oakland Estuary in San Francisco Bay. It makes its way through 100-foot deep Dimond Canyon, lined with California bay laurels, oaks, willows, and many native and invasive plant species. Above the Leimert Bridge, the creek is marred by grade control structures, culverts, and cement linings. Below the bridge is a restoration site where grade control structures were removed and thousands of native plants replaced invasive non-natives. At El Centro Avenue, the creek flows through a culvert into Dimond Park. In the Oakland flatlands, culverted sections alternate with open stretches of creek before disappearing into the final culvert at East 22nd Street.
Shephard Creek has limited opportunities for native plant restoration. What was once an open creek channel has now been diverted into a maze of culverts and storm drains, making for very little riparian and aquatic habitat.
The Oakland Estuary is a strait the separates the cities of Oakland and Alameda. Its eastern end connects to San Leandro Bay where leopard sharks, seals, and bat rays can be found. Its western end connects to San Francisco Bay. Dredging and manufacturing industries have caused much sedimentation and contamination.
Dimond Canyon TrailA popular trail that runs alongside Sausal Creek through Dimond Canyon and up to Highway 13.
Shephard Canyon Trail (Montclair Railroad Trail)This trail traverses the quiet Oakland hills neighborhood of Montclair. Built on the rail bed of the Sacramento Northern Railway, it is now a paved and flat community pathway, 1.5 miles long, with interpretive signs. It is a great place for walking, jogging, hiking, and bicycling as well as for children and pets.
Parks and Recreation
Dimond Canyon ParkPalo Seco Creek runs through the upper parts of the park. Popular trails include the Bridgeview Trail, Old Canyon Trail, and Dimond Canyon Trail.
Dimond ParkA large public park with a recreation center, Sausal Creek hiking trails, barbecue and picnic grounds, and a native plant demonstration garden.
Despite the many ways in which the Sausal Creek watershed has been affected by urbanization, erosion, invasive species, litter, and illegaldumping, the remaining natural resources can be protected, enhanced, and rehabilitated. FOSC seeks to restore the integrity of the following ecological communities: riparian, oak woodland, redwood forest, grassland, chaparral, and northern coastal scrub. Within these undeveloped habitats is a wealth of biological diversity. Typical restoration efforts include removal of invasive plant species, propagation of native plants from the FOSC native plant nursery, removal of failing concrete structures, and the installation of erosion control material through bioengineering techniques. To find out about current restoration projects in the watershed, see the Map of FOSC Restoration Projects.