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Living on a Creek

If You Live on a Creek

Creeks are the lifeblood of the ecosystem. They are a source of enjoyment and a necessity for the wildlife that inhabits the area. A healthy creek flowing along your property is a wonderful amenity, and generally increases your property’s monetary value. You and your neighbors share responsibility for keeping the creek and its corridor healthy, both for people’s enjoyment and for the wildlife that depend upon the fragile waterway. Since so much of creekside property is in private ownership, much of the responsibility for the health of creeks and the survival of creek-dependent wildlife lies with you, the creekside residents. Mismanagement of the creek can often lead to drainage problems. This in turn can cause erosion, property damage and a decrease in property value.

Creekside property in most cases utilizes the nominal creek center line as the property line (despite the perception that a fence at the top of the creek bank defines a property). Ownership of the creekside property carries special responsibilities and risks. It is important to consider how your actions near or in the creek will affect your neighbors upstream and downstream. Any changes you make to the creek banks can have far-reaching and unintended consequences.


See our new tip sheets on how to get rid of ivy on your creek bank and what plants to put in its place-- documents are linked at the bottom of this page!

Preserve the existing native creekside vegetation. Creek vegetation provides shelter for fish and wildlife. Overhanging trees offer shade that keeps the water temperatures cool. Cooler temperatures are good for fish and deter unsightly algae growth.

Non-native ivy spreading along Wilkie Creek, near Sheldon School.

Use native riparian trees and shrubs when landscaping creek slopes. Native plants require less water, fertilizers, and are better adapted to California’s environment. In addition, creekside native plants stabilize creek banks, and protect slopes from erosion.

Non-native plants should be removed. The invasive plants described in the Gardening section above create special problems when they are near a creek. German, Algerian and English ivy may look like they are preventing erosion, but that is not the case. Water flowing beneath the vegetation may erode and destabilize the creek bank. And plant segments may be carried downstream to invade another area.

Before clearing a large area, however, take measures to prevent erosion. Large-scale clearing along creek banks requires a permit from the California Department of Fish and Game.

Soil erosion can be a natural process. However, increased volumes of water runoff from land development, loss of natural vegetation, and upstream changes to the creek channel may lead to eroded creek beds. Improper construction of decks and structures along the creek may cause the creekside to be unstable. This may lead to the loss of clean water and creekside vegetation. Severe property damage may also be the result.

There are state, county, and city regulations that govern both the building of structures and other activities which may affect a creek. Consult your city or county permit department before you plan a project. You can find a list of helpful phone numbers here.


San Pablo Creek,
Aug 14, 2012, 4:00 PM
San Pablo Creek,
Aug 14, 2012, 4:00 PM