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Willow Creek is a tributary to the lower Russian River in coastal Sonoma County. The Willow Creek watershed drains an area of approximately 8.7 square miles, nearly all of which is owned and managed by State Parks as part of Sonoma Coast State Park. The lower Willow Creek valley within the park contains significant, undeveloped wetland and riparian habitats. The upper watershed is primarily forested land, with intermixed grasslands.
In 2001, approximately 4,600 feet upstream from its confluence with the Russian River, Willow Creek was filled in with sediment. In certain segments of the creek, no bed or banks remained. These conditions limited the upstream migration of spawning salmonids to periods when the valley was flooded. Downstream migration of juveniles in spring was also blocked.
The filled channel condition of Willow Creek upstream of the second bridge was attributed to channel modifications that were begun before 1953, as well as increased sediment yield from land use practices in the watershed. Prior to 1953, Willow Creek was relocated, straightened, and probably widened, apparently to facilitate agriculture. Such channel modifications often create a condition that traps sediment as is illustrated by the fact that unmodified reaches of Willow Creek upstream and downstream were not filled with sediment to the same degree. The increased sediment yield from the watershed is attributed to road construction, timber harvesting, and livestock grazing beginning before 1900. Sediment supply derived from landslides and surface erosion has decreased since the 1960s.
In 2011, a new 43 foot span bridge was installed near 2nd Bridge. This successful endeavor has re-established fish passage in the watershed.
The Willow Creek Water Quality Monitoring Program began in the early 2000s when Stewards became active in assisting State Parks with restoring fish passage in the Willow Creek watershed. Volunteers were trained and began monitoring three locations in the watershed at regular intervals. Parameters include pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and other tests that determine optimum habitat for salmonids.
Documents Related to the Willow Creek Watershed:
The Willow Creek Watershed Management Plan 2005
Willow Creek Channel Analysis - 2005
Jan. 29, 2004 - Willow Creek public meeting results
List of Technical Documents for Willow Creek
Willow Creek Geotechnical Study - 2008
Willow Creek 30% Design Memo - 2008
80% Designs for 2nd Bridge
Mitigated Declaration for Willow Creek Bridge Project - 16.4 mg file