Putah Creek suffers overuse during pandemic

PHOTO: Shown is an image of the Putah Creek at Old Davis Road near the California Raptor center. The Putah Creek is an important resource for UC Davis and for lots of wildlife because of the riparian corridor which surrounds it.

By Lyle Hahn,

BlueDevilHUB Staff-

Putah Creek, a stream on UC Davis property, has become one of the most popular recreational destinations in Davis during quarantine. UCD usually allows people to freely use the land surrounding the creek, but the extreme concentration of people in certain areas caused college administration to post scattered “no trespassing” signs.

PHOTO: No trespassing signs were posted around the rope swings after they were cut down. The signs and fences have since been removed and most of the rope swings have been replaced.

During shelter-in-place, many recreational opportunities around Yolo County have been closed due to precautions taken to protect people from COVID-19. Public pools have been closed, and with some days hitting triple digit temperatures, people have been drawn to a public source of water in Davis: Putah Creek.

People have set up rope swings at a large open area on the trail upstream of the Camp Putah bike racks. Originally, there were not many people visiting the area, but people began coming to swim as the weather warmed up.

The rope swing area became a hotspot for activity, and many people swam without wearing masks or following social distancing protocols. The large number of people became a problem for the ecosystem, causing erosion, hurting local wildlife and making the stream much muddier downstream.

PHOTO: People swimming in the creek have caused increased activity right at the water’s edge which causes increased levels of bank erosion. Bank erosion causes decreased water clarity and less in stream habitat for most aquatic organisms.

Junior Tai Hackett has gone to Putah Creek multiple times on hikes and fishing during quarantine. “I’ve seen a ton of people down at Putah and I think that actually affects the wildlife negatively,” Hackett said.

Putah Creek is also one of the only fisheries with bike access in Davis, so it often gets extremely high fishing pressure. Now that people are in lockdown, many will go fishing to gain solitude and relaxing time.

Due to the large number of fishermen at Putah Creek and the low water levels, the small number of fish resident to the creek get almost constant disturbance throughout the day between the fishermen and the swimmers.

Junior Kavi McKinney goes fishing somewhat regularly on Putah Creek, and he has noticed changes in both his success and number of available spots. “I just have to work harder to find spots to fish where there are fewer people,” McKinney said.

Restrictive measures placed by UCD police have been effective for a short time, but there were soon rope swings put up to replace the ones the police cut down and the no trespassing signs had been removed.

There were about 50 people in the area surrounding the rope swings area on June 6, which was a noticeably lower number of people than had been around on hotter days such as Memorial Day. There were people at every access point from the trail on Memorial Day, and the creek appeared to be heavily polluted as soon as it passed the first access point at the Pedrick Road bridge.

Putah Creek is an important resource for many in the area, especially during quarantine as there is nowhere else people can go to get many of the activities which it offers. However, if the area continues to be misused and cause damaged, the beautiful and unique riparian channel in the middle of large tracts of farmland and suburban areas may disappear. 

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