Raise your hand if you live in a watershed! Are all of your hands up? We all live in a watershed, an area of land that all water (from rain, snow and springs) flows across, under and through on its way into a common body of water, such as a creek, river, bay or ocean. The water may travel through city streets and into storm drains, over the surface of the ground and across farm fields, or suburban lawns, or it may seep into the soil and travel as groundwater. Along the way, water picks up and carries materials.
Everything we do impacts our watershed. Use of land and water from any part of the watershed, such as polluted run-off from farms, forests, ranches, and cities, eventually affects the health of the whole watershed – as well as the plants, animals and people within it.
A healthy watershed is important to everyone! Animals find food, water and shelter near creeks and waterways. Humans enjoy clean water and places to relax, swim and appreciate nature. One of the best ways to help your local watershed is to connect with it.
So, may I suggest a visit to that creek in your neighborhood for an old-fashioned, low-tech exploration? Bring binoculars, a nature journal, a creek creature identification sheet, and empty baby food jars. Bring some kids and all your senses.
At the creek, sit quietly and listen for the sound that is the nearest or the sound that is farthest away. Can you hear the creek running or the birds calling?
Notice the variety of habitats in the creek. Look for a place in the creek where there is a riffle: a shallow area where water breaks over rocks, promoting high oxygen levels. Invertebrates and the small fish that feed on them live here, in a pool: a deeper area with slower moving water. Pools provide a spawning, feeding and resting site for fish, or a run: a straight, fast moving, section of a creek between riffles that has a diverse mixture of aquatic life. Look for tracks and scat along the creek banks. Use the baby food jars to carefully capture aquatic life. Observe, sketch and release.
Smell the variety of plants and flowers now blooming in the riparian zone. Notice that the bushes, trees and roots are all home to various wildlife. Draw a guide to the plants and trees in one small area of the creek.
Blindfold a friend or sibling and carefully lead them to a tree near the creek. Allow them to touch it, then give them a spin and lead them away. Remove the blindfold and challenge them to find their tree using their eyes.
Find edibles along the creek, like wild onion, miner’s lettuce or blackberry and taste wild food right off the vine.
Once connected, it is easy to care, and help keep our watersheds clean, in simple ways such as monitoring what you allow down the storm drains, refraining from flushing cat feces, or participating in a creek clean up. Please add your own ideas!
The Oakland Zoo has restored a section of the Arroyo Viejo Creek on the zoo grounds with support from City of Oakland, the California Coastal Conservancy, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Alameda County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, and the City of Oakland Measure DD Bond. With six outdoor classrooms featuring educational signage and seating on logs, the creek will offer an exploration experience for all. Help us celebrate with a ribbon cutting ceremony at noon on Saturday, April 12, as part of the Oakland Zoo’s Earth Day celebration.
See you down at the creek!
Amy Gotliffe is Conservation Manager at The Oakland Zoo.