ContentsPutah and Cache: Willow Slough and Creeks' Ends

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Cache Creek Outflow and Willow Slough

Robert Thayer

After driving east through Woodland several miles on Main Street, continue until the road rises up onto the levee, with metal gates on either side of the road. Cache Creek settling basin is north of the road behind one of the steel gates. (Please do not park your car in front of the gate). A short walk north takes you up to the large catchment, where waters from Cache Creek are impounded over a broad area to allow sediment to settle out so that the adjacent Yolo Bypass, which must carry away Sacramento River flood water, does not clog up. In heavy flood events, such as the winters of '95, '96, and '97, flows exceed capacity and spill over the weir to the north, into the Yolo Bypass. This is the functional but homely terminus of Cache Creek. On rare occasions it is possible to gaze across the flooded bypass at thousands of migratory waterfowl and get a glimpse of what the Sacramento River flood plain once was-a vast periodic inland sea interspersed with marsh, permanent and seasonal wetlands. "Yolo", the county name, means marsh, and not far north of here were the Patwin groups known as the "Yolo-toi", People of the Marsh. Try repeating this phrase: "Saltu k'ewe Yolo-toi"-in this spot. Spirit home of the marsh people.

Willow Slough

The whole Sacramento Valley region is basically an outwash plain over a former inland sea bed, where sediments have been transported from the surrounding hills and deposited for hundreds of thousands of years. Many of the feeders which carried this sediment into the Valley are small intermittent creeks or "sloughs", as they are often termed. Most of these sloughs drain small watersheds in the low western foothills. Riparian trees follow the old channel of Willow Slough which, prior to being by-passed in the mid-20th century for flood control, once brought flood waters into the surrounding area. Willow Slough is still an important source of irrigation, a flood-control channel, and a riparian habitat for birds, amphibians, and mammals. In the 1890s, Willow Slough had year-round, clear water of such quality as to lead Woodland's politicians to suggest the use of it for civic domestic consumption. Channelization, land planing, devegetation, and monocultural, high-chemical agriculture have impoverished the sloughs into relics of their former past condition.

Willow Slough is home to Swainson's Hawks, Great Horned and Barn Owls, egrets, herons, ducks, and many other species. The slough provides important visual diversity in this very flat landscape, and offers a corridor for many animals to move about the land in safety. Without the sloughs and small creeks, there would be no high-quality valley soils, and our bioregion would not be what it is today.

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