By SIMONE SMITH
It may be hard to believe the town of Santa Margarita has ever flooded, but any long-time local will tell you about water cresting the creek banks, homes flooding and canoes being paddled down streets.
The town has a naturally high water table and combined with creek overgrowth, filling in of natural retention ponds and poor drainage systems it didn’t take much extra rainfall to cause a “100-year” flood to occur more often. However, since the last flooding in 1998, a combination of county drainage improvements and
local volunteer efforts have made a difference.
Saturday, Oct. 5, marked the 15th year of the Annual Santa Margarita Creek Clearing event, first held in 2004, organized and directed by local residents John Wilkins and Heidi Petersen. This project has been a huge undertaking involving much paperwork, coordination of multiple agencies, businesses and volunteers, and utilizing assistance from Supervisor Debbie Arnold’s office with logistics and permitting through the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and from Creek Biologist Victoria Trautman in monitoring the sensitive creek habitat for California Red-legged Frogs.
This year saw 30 volunteers, including local residents and a crew from Cal Fire Station 40 who started the day off with orientation from John Wilkins, coffee and donuts before breaking into groups to cut down, clear out and haul off creek overgrowth, downed limbs and any trash that could impede the flow of future stormwater from the one half to three quarter mile winding Santa Margarita Creek.
The day was a success, volunteers were fed a lunch paid for by Santa Margarita Beautiful and made by local women, no injuries were reported, no Red-legged frogs were seen and the creek is clear.
John Wilkins and Heidi Petersen are now stepping down from their volunteer organizing positions. The reins of the annual Santa Margarita Creek Clearing event are now being handed over to Devin Best, Executive Director of the Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation District who will be taking over the permitting process and have access to greater technical, State and Federal resources in addition to working with community volunteers.