Friday, September 15, 2017

Meet Sunol Valley's Natural Garbage Collectors


This week we wanted to highlight some special local inhabitants - turkey vultures.  If you drive anywhere in the Sunol Valley, you will almost always spot a committee of vultures waiting to see what their next meal will be. 



Turkey vultures, like this one spotted near Calaveras Reservoir, like to roost in bare trees to keep an eye (and nose) out for their next meal.

Turkey vultures, also known as turkey buzzards, are the most widespread species of vulture in the New World. They are so named because of their resemblance to the male wild turkey. Their range spreads from Canada all the way to the southernmost tip of South America. We call them nature’s garbage collectors because they feed almost exclusively on carrion and perform a crucial natural function of picking clean disease carrying carcasses.

Vultures are probably one of the most misunderstood birds in the animal kingdom. Here are some fun facts about these creatures:

  • Turkey vultures have one of the best senses of smell in the animal kingdom.
  • It's a misconception that they actually prefer their food rotten.  However, vultures do have a cool adaptation; their stomach acid is almost comparable to battery acid.
  • Nothing goes to waste with a vulture. They even make good use of semi-digested and digested food.



Photo courtesy of WikiCommons



Although few people would call them cute, they do perform a crucial role in natural areas like the Sunol Valley. 

See you around the valley!



Friday, September 8, 2017

The Building Blocks of the Replacement Calaveras Dam

If you are new to the world of dam construction, you might wonder what types of materials are used in building one.  Today’s blog will focus on what types of materials we are using to construct the new Calaveras Dam. Calaveras Dam is an earth embankment dam.  Earth embankment dams tend to be constructed of all types of geologic materials.



Calaveras Dam, July 2017
The picture above was taken recently; from it you can visually see the different materials. Let’s start with the middle and the most important material used in our dam, the core. 


The Core of Calaveras Dam

Zone 1 & 1A—aka…the Core
The core is made up of clay.  Clay is very dense and less permeable than most materials.  Our new dam will have a large core, which will help ensure that the dam withstands a 7.2 magnitude earthquake.  The clay used in our dam has been ‘borrowed’ from the south end of Calaveras Reservoir.

The core is taking shape.


Zone 1A- Core’s foundation
At the bottom of the core, you will find Zone 1A material. This clay is plastic, pliable clay, or another words, clay that has a Play-dohtm like consistency.   Zone 1A material is placed on the foundation’s bedrock and acts as a seal against water flow beneath the dam.

The core is the most important element of the dam and therefore must be protected.  We protect our core by using filters in both the upstream (reservoir side) and the downstream (dry side) of the dam to control the seepage of water and remove it safely from the Dam.

Zone 2 and 2A- Sand
Upstream zones are made of sand  (Zone 2A) and large gravel (Zone 5A)The downstream filters or chimneys are made of sand (Zone 2) and pea gravel (Zone 3).

Zone 5-Rock Fill
Further protection for both the core and filters is provided by rockfill shells. The upstream shell consists of hard durable rock because it will be submerged in the reservoir, Zone 5 material.  This material consists of metamorphic rock known as blue schist.

The downstream shell (Zone 4) consists of onsite material from a geologic formation known as Temblor Sandstone.  While this is a sedimentary rock, it tends to degrade into a gravelly, sandy soil and is best suited for drier conditions than the upstream shell.


Zone 6- Rip Rap
Wave action in the reservoir due to wind can erode most earthen materials.  Large durable rocks are placed on the slopes of the dam at the waterline to prevent this erosion. This is Zone 6 also known as rip rap.


Image courtesy of www.fhwa.dot.gov



See you around the valley!


Friday, September 1, 2017

What is a desmostylus and what is it doing in the Sunol Valley?




Photo courtesy of www.alchetron.com

A Desmostylus was a hippo-like creature that lived about 20 million years ago. It happens to be the only order of marine mammal to have gone extinct. Some individuals lived along the shoreline of an ancient ocean that used to be located where the Sunol Valley is today.

If you stumbled upon this would you know it was a rib cage?  What it looked like prior to Excavation


During excavation of the Calaveras Dam Replacement Project, the project paleontologists found not only a few teeth belonging to these strange creatures, but recently found an entire rib cage. Removing the fossilized rib cage of an animal that likely weighed between 200 and 400 pounds in life is no small task.

First the bone had to be cleaned and separated as much as possible from the surrounding rock on the hillside.


Above is the picture after our fossil was cleaned and ready to be removed.




In order to physically remove it from the hillside, crews used a lift to grab the entire rib cage. Now that the rib cage has been safely removed from the construction site, it awaits further stabilization treatment by project paleontologists. 


See you around the Valley!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Photo Friday in Sunol Valley


This week we wanted to share a snapshot of construction underway at the Fish Passage Facilities in the Alameda Creek Watershed located adjacent to the East Bay Regional Park District's Sunol Regional Wilderness.

The photo below shows the construction of the intake structure were the fish screens are being constructed.  This particular intake structure will have a total of 4 fish screens (high tech contraptions that will prevent fish from being drawn into the intake structure).




The goal of the project is to provide for safe passage of fish around the Alameda Creek Diversion Dam to support the restoration of Steelhead trout to the Alameda Creek Watershed. 

This project is part of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's $4.8 billion Water System Improvement Program to repair, replace, and seismically upgrade portion of the Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System.

Construction is expected to be complete in fall 2018.

Happy Friday! 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

National Water Quality Month





August is National Water Quality Month! Your drinking water comes from a watershed. And if you are a customer of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) or one of our 27 wholesale customers in four Bay Area counties, your drinking water comes from three watersheds: the Tuolumne River Watershed near Yosemite National Park, the Alameda Creek Watershed in the East Bay, and the Crystal Springs Watershed on the Peninsula.

By protecting and preserving the lands that produce our drinking water, we not only support rare and endangered wildlife, we also provide the highest possible quality water to our customers.

In honor of National Water Quality month, we’d like to take this opportunity to remind ourselves how we all can help protect our local watersheds to protect the quality of our water.



The SFPUC owns 35,000 acres of watershed lands in the Alameda Creek Watershed. They are home to critters, like the Western Pond Turtle.

As part of National Water Quality month awareness, there are small things that you can do in your everyday life to help keep and protect water quality. Here are some helpful tips:
  • Use a commercial car wash — cleaning your car at home flushes dangerous chemicals down the storm drain and directly into our lakes and streams
  • Pick up after your dog
  • Dispose of used motor oil properly - one quart of motor oil can contaminate more than 250,000 gallons of water
  • Help pick up litter on the streets that could end up going down the storm drain use detergents that are phosphate-free 
  • Join in a beach, stream, or wetlands cleanup project. Look for local projects in your area.
By doing these simple things you will be contributing to protecting your watershed for future generations.

Thank you and Happy National Water Quality Month!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Chicks Relocated at Alameda Recapture Creek Project

During the month of June, part of our construction management team at the Alameda Creek Diversion Dam (ACDD) project relocated 5 adorable Northern Rough-winged swallow chicks.  The relocation of the chicks was done by lead biologist, Chris Pattison, with the assistance of another lead biologist, Matthew Bettelheim. Chris Pattison was the only biologist handling the baby chicks. The entire process was performed under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) relocation permit.

Lead biologist, Chris Pattison preparing to relocate the chicks

Rough-winged Swallow Chicks at ACDD Project

They were immediately transported to the Lindsay Wildlife Hospital for a full veterinarian examination.  All of the baby chicks passed their examinations and were then transferred to the Native Songbird Care and Conservation in Sebastopol, California.  Native Songbird Care and Conservation specializes in insectivorous birdsThe chicks were reared until they were ready for release.

Northern Rough-Winged at ACDD project

A plain brown bird, Northern Rough-winged swallows are common across the United States in the summer. They are solitary and are usually seen singly or in a small group.  The bird gets its name “rough-winged” because their outer wings have small hooks or points.

See you around the valley!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Preventing Fires in and around our Watersheds


Calaveras Reservoir 

Happy belated Fourth of July!


We are in the middle of fire season and it’s good to keep in mind how we can prevent fires in and around our watersheds.  Our watersheds, the San Antonio and Calaveras reservoirs are a critical part of our infrastructure because they provide clean drinking water to millions of people in the Bay Area.  They’re also home to wildlife, fish and livestock. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than $450 billion in food, fiber, manufactured goods and tourism depend on clean, healthy watersheds. Today’s blog is a continuation of our summer fire safety series, focusing on preventing fire in and around our watersheds.


Image courtesy of www.sc.edu


Fire Triangle

There are 3 key elements that need to be present in order to ignite a wildfire.  Those three elements are humidity, fuel (grasses, sticks, branches etc…) and wind.  Typically, if the humidity in the air is lower than 30%, coupled with fuel and wind, you’re bound to create a fire.  Out of all of the three elements, wind is the most dangerous because it provides oxygen to a fire. Wind not only controls the direction, spread, and size of fire, but also greatly affects the flammability of plants by reducing fuel moisture.

San Antonio Reservoir

Preventing Fires in and around Watersheds

Here are some helpful tips on how to prevent fires in and around our watersheds:
  • Be careful and stay in well established graded/mowed roads
  • If you have an ATV’s- remember just because you have an ATV doesn’t mean you’re safe 
    • Use ATV’s only if weather permits
  • Pay attention to the condition of the fuel around you, especially on hot, windy days
  • Be aware of your vehicle’s exhaust, whether you’re on an ATV, car or any other type of mechanical equipment
    • If you have to pull over to the side of the road, be careful not to park over dry fuel (grasses)
  • Fireworks- careful not to set them off in or around dry fuel (grasses)
  • Shooting Guns- sparks from guns or any other type of firearm can ignite a fire given the right conditions
  • Mowing –is the biggest causes of fires, try not to mow past 10 a.m.
  • No smoking near the watersheds
 If you see a fire near or around a watershed please call 911 immediately!

Additional fire resources:
·       CAL FIRE at: http://www.readyforwildfire.org/
National Fire Protection Agency, http://www.nfpa.org/