A day of irrigation along two creeks

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | November 1, 2019

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our second Sac Valley SLEWS day of the year brought us to the confluence of Putah Creek and Dry Creek in Winters, CA. Landowners Michael Barbour and Valerie Whitworth have been working with Yolo County Resource Conservation District to plan a habitat restoration project in an area that was damaged by fire in October 2018. This will increase biodiversity in the area as well as provide habitat for pollinators and the wildlife of the creek. We were happy to involve Winters High School students with this project, walking distance from their school!

After students arrived on foot and enjoyed breakfast, we gathered in our opening circle to introduce ourselves and the project goals, and learn names with a round of group juggle. From there Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District led us towards the creek to teach us about a very important plant – blue elderberry. There are special rules and protective measures surrounding this plant. Why? It is the only host plant for the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, a federally protected species of insect. Its habitat has been greatly reduced due to agriculture and urban development. To protect the beetle, the blue elderberry plant is protected from disturbance, trimming, and removal. Our project site has a sizeable elderberry shrub in the middle of it, so we took extra precautions to make sure it was not damaged during our work.

To start our project, we had to move a bunch of brush that was in the way of our project site. Though there was a sizeable amount of cut branches, students and mentors made extremely short work of it. Next the entire class gathered together to lay out the longest irrigation line. This is a group effort – students space themselves about 20 feet apart and carry the line all the way to the end as the spool of irrigation tubing unspools. One this line was “stapled” down, students got in their mentor groups to divide and conquer.

One group worked on installing emitters on existing oak trees, another created a “grid” of irrigation for the pollinator meadow, and the other two groups laid out 3 more lines of irrigation in the main planting area, taking care around the elderberry of course. By lunch time, students had installed 2500 feet total of irrigation and installed 280 emitters!

Once we were done eating, we ventured down to Putah Creek where Amy and mentor (and biologist!) Corey Shake talked about the significance of the creek and the wildlife that calls it home – especially spawning salmon! We even saw some wildlife of our own on the field day including western fence lizards, a fuzzy caterpillar, beetles, and birds. After exploring the creek, students found a quiet spot to sit and reflect on their first field day in a field journal. This low energy activity was probably a welcome end to the day – a mentor’s fitbit tracked that we walked 4 miles while working throughout the field day, not even counting the students’ walk to and from school!

Wind and rice and everything nice

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | October 29, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA
Ryan Bixenmann

Summary of the Day
On Tuesday, October 29th, the Sacramento Valley SLEWS season began! Florin High students made the journey to River Garden Farms in Knights Landing for the third year in a row. This time, rather than planting hedgerows alongside a levee road, students gathered in the middle of a walnut orchard. Powerlines above the orchard make a strip of land unsuitable for trees. River Garden Farms saw this as an opportunity to create a corridor of native vegetation to increase biodiversity and provide habitat for wildlife and pollinators. Yolo County Resource Conservation District helped plan the project – 5 parallel rows of plants, with the outer two being mostly deergrass and the inner 3 being native shrubs and vegetation. The irrigation line was already in place, and students would be tackling the rest of the project.

After warming up with hot cocoa and breakfast, we got familiar with each other’s names with a game of group juggle. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District introduced the group to the project and the task of the day – removing flags where there would not be plants, and installing emitters and spaghetti tubing onto the irrigation line. Students divided into their mentor groups and tackled the project at hand, despite very windy conditions. Much to everyone’s amusement, the hot pink irrigation poker tools that Alex initially made fun of turned out to be the best tool for the job and were highly sought after!


Though it was windy and sometimes challenging to access the irrigation lines through the weedy overgrowth, students had incredibly positive attitudes throughout the morning and it was truly a joy spending time with them. Some mentor groups even came up with team names to stay motivated – I believe I heard one group call themselves “the Scarlet Dragons”.

After lunch, students boarded the bus to make their way to River Garden Farms’ Tyndall Mound Warehouse. Warehouse Manager Joe took showed students how they weigh and sample shipments as they head out on the trucks before leading us on a tour of the rest of the facility. The highlight was DEFINITELY the warehouse – students were able to climb and play in an enormous warehouse full of loose, unhulled, dry rice! The rice drying machine was also fascinating – rice slowly travels downward over many, many stories as airflow helps it to dry out. 

We had to end the day in a hurry to get students back to school on time so we went around our closing circle to share just one word to describe the day. What was by far the most popular word? FUN!

A Rainy Spring day at Petersen Ranch

Rio Vista High School at Petersen Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 20, 2019

Participating School
Rio Vista High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Emily Snider, UCD graduate student
Matthew Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS
Luke Petersen, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS

Summary of the Day
The first day of spring was the second day out in the field for Rio Vista students at Petersen Ranch, but the weather turned out to be more wintry than we’d hoped – it was a light steady rain for most of the day, and windy as well. So windy, in fact, that during opening circle the pop-up canopy that was sheltering the breakfast table went tumbling across the field! It took several mentors chasing it down and affixing it to the side of the truck before we could continue.

We played a round of group juggle to familiarize ourselves with names before Chris Carlson of Solano RCD demonstrated our tasks for the day. It was too muddy to access our original site, so we were at a different location on Petersen Ranch to put the finishing touches on an existing project – weeding around previous planted trees and shrubs, planting grass and forb plugs, and installing emitters for all of these native plant species. Students worked through a rainy morning before breaking for lunch. Most students ate their burritos sheltered by the RCD trailer!

After lunch, there was a fun surprise – mentor Matt Young and his colleague MJ Farruggia had caught some fish near our field site. MJ showed students several species of native and non-native fish including mosquitofish, largemouth bass, Sacramento pikeminnow, and bigscale logperch. Groups rotated between MJ and Matt, who explained what he does as a fish biologist while teaching students how to use a casting net. Students were thrilled to catch Western mosquitofish and a fathead minnow in the drainage ditch near our planting site and almost every student remarked that this was their favorite part of the day!

We didn’t get the weather you would expect on the first day of spring, but mentors were so impressed that they didn’t hear one complaint or even comments about the unpleasant, rainy weather.