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Watershed Neighbors and the Creeks of Salinas

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Watershed Neighbors

We all live in a watershed. A watershed is all the land area, including manmade and natural surfaces, that contribute water flow to the nearest waterway. Water travels from the highest points of a watershed to the lowest points, eventually to the ocean. Everything that happens in the watershed affects downstream water quality and habitat quality for fish, birds and other living things. Salinas waterways are its local neighborhood creeks, the Salinas River, all connected to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Creeks of Salinas

Where does our water come from? Where does it go? Well, in Salinas it is pretty easy to see. Water flows from the Gabilan Mountains to the northeast of the City through four creeks. Water also flows from the Salinas River past Salinas. All of this water can been easily seen. There is water flowing through and past Salinas that can’t be seen. Water in the Salinas River and to a lesser extent percolates into the ground where it continues to flow in something called aquifers (natural underground reservoirs) where it continues to follow surface water’s journey to the Monterey Bay.

These four creeks are:

  • Santa Rita Creek
  • Gabilan Creek
  • Natividad Creek
  • Alisal Creek

Save for Santa Rita, each of the other three creeks drain into the city center in what used be a seasonal lake. Today the over 450-acre Carr Lake site is famed. In the beginning of the 20th Century settlers decided to drain the several lakes and other wet areas in Salinas to provide for farming and development. In 1917, the Reclamation Ditch 1665 Assessment District was formed and several of the creeks channelized to accommodate greater flows. Today, the “Rec. Ditch” as it is commonly called, has changed the ecology of the creeks, but still drains water. Only now, most of the water is tailwater or water runoff from farm fields.

Creeks today still carry water from Gabilan Mountain to the center of the city. They also are a terrific place to hike from the city into the foothills. Several neighborhoods creek hiking trails where one can enjoy nature and see wildlife. The largest of these areas include Natividad Creek Park and the Creekbridge Neighborhood along East Laurel Avenue. Where is the nearest creek to you?

Creeks afford interesting exploration opportunities. Several segments of our local creeks are particularly worthy of exploration: the water flowing in it, the creek bed and the banks. In addition to the creek itself, the vegetation along creek banks and the uplands immediately beyond the top of the banks provide interesting areas to explore. And of course, there are the animals that use the habitat and call the Creeks of Salinas home. Birding is especially rich where Gabilan and Natividad Creeks come together in Upper Carr Lake at East Laurel Drive. There is a parking lot there for explorers to begin their hikes up the watershed. And the City and various groups conduct educational programs in this area. Please Contact Us if you would like to be part of a creek clean- up, stormdrain stenciling, creek fair or participate in other stormwater activities.

In addition to the four creeks, the southwest portion of Salinas, and the entire Salinas Valley, is drained by the Salinas River–largest river of California’s Central Coast–running 170 miles from San Luis Obispo County to Monterey Bay. It flows north-northwest through the Salinas Valley were it replenishes groundwater reserves, called aquifers. Groundwater is the principle source of domestic drinking water and agricultural irrigation water for Salinas and communities up and down the valley.