ContentsPutah and Cache: UC Davis

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Putah Creek Riparian Reserve

Robert Thayer

Our second stop brings us back to the edge of the creek at the Putah Creek Campus reserve. Behind us is the Aquatic Weed Center, and it was just about at this spot that farmers in the late 1890's rerouted the flow of Putah Creek away from the "north fork", which we have been following, and into its present channel. Many folks still think the UCD Arboretum is Putah Creek, but the current channel takes the water south of Davis, lessening the chances for flooding of the city and campus.

UC Davis manages a large acreage of land along the north side of Putah Creek here and upstream for several miles. The Putah Creek Campus Reserve is a location for research, education, and recreation. Here one finds remnants of the great former riparian forests of valley oak, cottonwood, foothill ash, and willow which prevailed in this region prior to reclamation of most of the land for farming in the 19th century. For hundreds of thousands of years, Putah Creek, Cache Creek, and similar drainages periodically spilled their banks, leaving sediment brought down from the foothills in deep, rich deposits of alluvium which characterize the Sacramento Valley's world-class agricultural soils.

In spite of its homely and somewhat vestigial nature, this stretch of the creek supports rich biodiversity.During the late 1980's drought years, mountain lions were sighted here, and evidence of their kills included deer taken from the UCD Experimental Ecosystem just west of here; even fox and horse carcasses were found. A significant population of Swainson's hawks nest in the riparian trees and forage in surrounding fields. When sufficient water flows in the creek, a small kayak or canoe offers the paddler a rare opportunity to share in the creek's multitude of plant and animal species, as one encounters beaver, otter, muskrat, herons, wood ducks, various amphibians, and at least fifteen species of fish.

As we leave the Campus Reserve, you'll see several very large valley oak trees with their broad, spreading crowns and distinct branching patterns silhouetted against the foothills. Valley oaks were prolific before fields were cleared for agriculture. More than any tree, the Valley Oak characterizes the lower plains region of Putah and Cache Creeks, and was an important food source for native peoples living here.

At about mile 12 you will see the Glide Ranch to your left. Its undulating landforms and drainage swales, not the laser-planed agricultural fields, are closer to the original topography of the Valley prior to the arrival of white people.

The recently acquired Russell Ranch is on the north side of Putah Creek just west of the Glide Ranch. Here, long-term experiments in low-input sustainable farming methods (i.e., no synthetic chemical pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers) will be conducted for periods as long as one hundred years. The LTSA (Long Term Sustainable Agriculture) facility will serve as a baseline for comparison of soil structure and fertility as well as costs and benefits of more organic farming.

On the route between UC Davis and Winters you may see natural gas exploration rigs. UC Davis and local farmers gain some revenues from the gas, produced in the deeply buried sea floor sediments of the Sacramento Valley. Similar sediments further south, which have not been heated as much, produce oil.

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Crossing Putah Creek
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Winters