Governor signs Middle Creek restoration bill

NORTHSHORE – On Sunday Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill by Assemblymember Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata) that will restore 1,400 acres of wetlands in the Clear Lake Basin.

AB 74, the Middle Creek and Hamilton City Flood Damage Restoration and Ecosystem Act, will restore Clear Lake habitat that includes open water, seasonal wetlands, in-stream aquatic habitat, shaded aquatic habitat and perennial wetlands.

“The governor didn’t sign many bills this year, but by signing AB 74 he clearly recognized the importance and public benefit of this bill,” Chesbro said. “In addition to wetland restoration, habitat improvement and increased flood protection, the project funded by this bill will have a significant positive financial impact on the county.


“The Lake County economy took a big hit this year as a result of the algae infestation in the lake,” Chesbro said. “The restoration will significantly improve the water quality of Clear Lake and help reduce these algae plagues. The project – funded with $48 million in federal and state money – will also create new, green jobs in Lake County.”

The project area is located at the north end of Clear Lake in the area bounded by State Highway 20 and Rodman Slough.

This area was "reclaimed" between 1900 and 1940 by constructing levees, creating a slough and “reclaiming” approximately 1,200 acres of lake bottom and shoreline wetlands for agricultural purposes.

An analysis estimates the project will reduce by 40 percent the amount of phosphorus entering Clear Lake from Middle and Scotts creeks. Reduced phosphorus concentrations in Clear Lake would potentially reduce the chlorophyll concentrations by 33 percent, which will reduce the amount of algae that grows in the lake.

The project will also restore up to 1,400 acres of the 7,520 acres of historic wetlands in the Clear Lake Basin that have either been lost or severely impacted. Restored habitat includes open water, seasonal wetlands, in-stream aquatic habitat, shaded aquatic habitat, and perennial wetlands. Additional upland habitat will be protected adjacent to the wetland and stream areas.

In 1958, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers added to the levee system, “reclaiming” an additional 200 acres of shoreline wetlands. These projects resulted in the physical isolation of more than 1,600 acres of wetland and floodplain from the largest tributaries of Clear Lake. The levees constructed by the Corps are owned and maintained by the State of California.

The levees in the project area are up to three feet below design grade, are prone to slope failure, and have inadequate cross-section. The levees were never constructed to proper standards and are the most prone to failure during a major flood event.

The Corps has determined that the levees provide only a four-year level of protection (the levees were designed to provide a 50-year level of protection) and will overtop during a 35-year flood event, unless emergency flood measures are implemented.

The Lake County Board of Supervisors sponsored AB 74.

The bill received support from the Sierra Club Lake Group, The Nature Conservancy, Lakeport Regional Chamber of Commerce, Lake County Land Trust, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake Tribe and West Lake Resource Conservation District.