From the Darkness Into the Light

Friends of Willow Creek, in Sausalito, is celebrating 13 years of stewardship and advocacy for “creek daylighting”, which is the conversion of buried pipes that convey former streams to above-ground, vegetated channels.  Daylighting creeks is a complex, expensive and uncommon undertaking, as the Friends have learned, and requires patient planning, outreach, and partnership-building over a sustained period of time.  One of the reasons creeks were buried in Sausalito and mostly forgotten was to make room for buildings, streets and yards, so there is not much room available to restore creeks and their riparian corridors. Willow Creek represents one of those rare opportunities, with most of its alignment on public lands through the City with no permanent structures, and this inspired the formation of the Friends to protect the last remnants of what remains, and possibly add to them in the future. 

The Friends partnered with the Sausalito Marin City School District (SMCSD) to apply for U.S. EPA Water Quality Improvement Program (WQIF) funding in 2022. This application was for funding the design and construction of a daylighted creek channel along with a newly planned school campus on Nevada Street funded by Measure P passed by the voters in 2020. Also included in the grant are provisions for monitoring and outreach, naming Marin RCD as one of the partners to advise on revegetation of the restored riparian corridor. In June 2023 U.S. EPA announced SMCSD had been awarded $3 Million for the project and they have already begun to use the funding to modify school campus designs.  If the project stays on schedule, design could be completed this year and construction of the creek channel could begin as soon as Summer 2025. 

In early 2023, the creek daylighting project was uncertain because of concerns raised by some in the school community about the safety of a creek corridor through the center of the campus, where the underground pipe is currently located.  On March 7, 2023, the City Council of Sausalito weighed-in on behalf of the Friends and unanimously passed Resolution 22-2023 encouraging the SMCSD to daylight the creek as part of the campus project.  Subsequently the Friends were able to fund the preliminary design of an alternative alignment to go around the new school and affirm the support and commitment of its SMCSD partners. 

The southern Marin peninsula is a coastal fog condensation machine because of its steep topography and orientation parallel to the Pacific Ocean coastline.  The air above the ocean, saturated with water, is wrung by this ridgeline and fuels perennial streamflows that drain to Richardson Bay through the City of Sausalito. Sausalito’s name is Spanish for “little willow grove” which grow near little creeks that are now mostly buried and forgotten. Therefore creek daylighting in Sausalito will help restore its natural heritage and remind residents that there are waterways that can provide water quality improvement, flood attenuation, wildlife habitat and quality-of-life benefits right here in town, as they used to do for millenia. 

This article was published on 03/05/2024 in the Marin Resource Conservation District newsletter.