Water district directs creek bed cleanup

Mattresses, electronic components and tires were among the two tons of trash collected from the water district portion of Santa Maria Creek bed. Photo courtesy of Ramona Municipal Water District
Mattresses, electronic components and tires were among the two tons of trash collected from the water district portion of Santa Maria Creek bed. Photo courtesy of Ramona Municipal Water District

By Karen Brainard

Two tons of trash and debris, including mattresses and tires, were hand-cleared from the Santa Maria Creek bed where it runs through Ramona Community Park west to Seventh Street.

The project was part of Ramona Municipal Water District’s efforts to clean up the creek bed on its property to improve safety in the park and to prevent future flooding and fuel for fires. Attempts are under way to clean up the Santa Maria Creek bed in other areas of town. Ramona Community Planning Group initiated the effort after a request from former member and longtime Ramonan Angus Tobiason.

“As a coordinated effort in this community, we had a small part to play,” Ramona Fire Department/Cal Fire Battalion Chief Saul Villagomez told the water board Oct. 22 when giving his report on their portion of the cleanup.

To accomplish the trash removal, water district staff worked with the sheriff’s Ramona station, Cal Fire, and the California Department of Corrections, which provided crews from the Puerta La Cruz Conservation Camp for the manual labor.

“We had 17 folks on this particular crew. It’s an all female crew out of Warner Springs,” Villagomez explained.

The battalion chief said the crews worked on each side of the creek and down the center, bagging trash and pulling out debris that included shopping carts, crates, electronic parts,  and metal objects.

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A female crew from the Puerta La Cruz Conservation Camp removes trash from the Santa Maria Creek bed on Ramona Municipal Water District-owned property. Photo courtesy of Ramona Municipal Water District

“How it got there, we can only imagine,” Villagomez said.

The crews began after the sheriff’s department conducted sweeps of the creek bed in mid-October. A sweep on Oct. 11 led to the arrests of a man and a woman, suspected of illegally camping in the creek bed, Lt. James Bovet of the Ramona station told the

Sentinel

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“Any given day there’s quite a few camps in there,” Bovet said of the creek bed that runs through town.

After Villagomez gave his report, board President Darrell Beck noted that Oct. 22 was the sixth anniversary of the Witch Creek fire that destroyed his home.

“The problem I have with the creek bed is that six years ago that was the area that carried the fire...to my end of the valley,” Beck said.

Presenting a mid-1960s aerial photo showing the creek devoid of much vegetation other than a few trees, Beck said environmental laws in the 1970s began regulating what can and cannot be cleared from a waterway.

He then showed an aerial shot from 1993 of the creek with flowing water  and vegetation along the sides.

Although the creek rarely fills with water, heavy rainfall has led to its banks overflowing. According to Beck, increased rainfall that began in 1978 and was followed by 40 inches of rain in 1980 caused the creek to flood. From 1978 to 1984, Beck said, Ramona averaged 27 inches of rain while the normal average is 14 inches.

Beck said he would like to see brush removed from the creek bed, but staff members said the district’s hands are tied by environmental agencies.

“What we’ve done at this point is what we can do,” said Mike Metts, the district’s contracted engineer from Dudek Engineering.

RMWD General Manager David Barnum said the district’s creek cleanup work is done for this year. Although RMWD hopes to do more next year, he said agencies such as Army Corps of Engineers and Regional Water Quality Control Board have strict regulations on clearing vegetation in navigable waterways, and if ignored  can result in hefty fines. The restrictions are greater for public-owned property than for private property, said Barnum.

   
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