1) Are there fish in Strawberry Creek?
Yes indeed; there are at least three species of fish successfully living and breeding in Strawberry Creek. They are:
Sacramento Sucker (Catostomus occidentalis)
California Roach Minnow (Hesperoleucus symmetricus)
Three-spine Stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)
The best locations to see them are in the deeper pools where the creek either undercuts the banks or where energy from water falling over the check-dams scours the creek bed making a “drop pool”. You have to watch carefully and spend some time letting your eyes become accustomed to watching for movement under water.
The suckers are generally on the bottom, in a school of anywhere from six to a dozen or more, moving slowly along while looking for their food. Suckers in Strawberry Creek can grow up to about 10 inches long although most are about 3-5 inches.
The minnows, also a schooling fish, are up in the mid water and face into the current waiting for food particles to drift their way. Roach minnows have fooled many folks into thinking they are seeing small trout or salmon because they behave similarly in small streams and creeks, heading up the riffles and rising for tidbits of food floating on the creek surface. They are generally about 2-5 inches long.
The sticklebacks are sometimes the hardest to spot because they are smallest of all (adults only reach about 2-3 inches) and they often hover motionless in the water, darting under a leaf or a rock when frightened. Look for a small fish up in the quiet mid water near creek banks, away from the riffles; they hover with a slight bend in their bodies and are usually seen when they move.
2) Isn’t Strawberry Creek so horribly polluted that a single drop can render a grown man deathly ill?
Actually, no. There was a time in Campus history when Strawberry Creek was used as an open sewer to transport sanitary wastes away from the University to San Francisco Bay. However, in the 1950’s, East Bay Municipal Utility District built the main sewage treatment plant in West Oakland and helped cities install sewer systems that diverted the wastewater away from creeks and the Bay and to the treatment plant.
Since then, the major sources of pollution in Strawberry Creek are contaminated storm runoff from the streets (caused mostly by leaking motor vehicles, homeowner applied fertilizer and pesticides, and construction site sediment), broken water mains that send chloraminated (added to make water safe to drink) water down the storm drains and into the Creek, and, relatively small leaks from cracked sewer pipes and mains. Those sources, plus fecal wastes from pets and wild animals, do have an impact on current water quality but not nearly to the extent of the pollution levels in the early and mid 1900’s. Current water quality tests show the water in Strawberry Creek usually meets water quality standards intended for non-contact recreational use (for instance sitting on the lawn next to the creek and watching the water striders ply their trade) and, at times, even meets criteria for contact recreational use like wading and swimming.
If you have been playing in the Creek we recommend you wash your hands thoroughly before eating or preparing food (that goes for ANY natural water body actually); otherwise, the water in the Creek is usually quite safe to touch. IF however, you see warning signs posted along the Creek, that means there has been a release of some kind of pollutant and you should stay out as long as the signs are up.
So, while we don’t recommend drinking the water flowing in Strawberry Creek, your dog could, and it probably wouldn't hurt them.
3) Where is Strawberry Creek, exactly.
It's right here on Campus! Click here to see a map.
Strawberry Creek starts as small seasonal channels and a few seep springs in upper Strawberry Canyon that run downhill to make two forks; one, the North Fork, begins up in the canyon where Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and the Lawrence Hall of Science are. The other fork, the South Fork, starts up in Strawberry Canyon just beyond the UC Botanical Garden. These two forks meet on Campus just west of Life Sciences Building complex in the Eucalyptus Grove. The Main Fork of Strawberry Creek flows from the apex of Grove down to Oxford Street where it disappears underground into a five foot diameter culvert. It flows underground until it pops up again in Strawberry Park at Addison and Acton in Berkeley. Then, it disappears into a culvert again and comes out into San Francisco Bay just beyond the East Shore freeway on the south side of University Avenue (right behind the Seabreeze Market to be more precise).
4) May I swim, drink, wade, bathe, play, etc. in Strawberry Creek?
(See the answer to Question No. 2)
5) May I catch the fish or bugs or crawdads in Strawberry Creek?
No. The removal of plant, animal, and mineral resources from University of California property is prohibited without expressed written permission from the University Facilities Officer.
That said, the most compelling reason that we’d prefer folks not take the critters from the Creek is, that as a small urban creek, it is already under a lot of pressure from being surrounded by a city with lots of people and businesses and cars, so the habitat is already hard pressed to support large numbers of fish, bugs, and other creek animals. In fact, one bad spill from a broken water main (because of the chloramine added to make our drinking water safe) could wipe out the fish population in a small creek that has a only a very few good pools to hide in. So while there is a small relatively healthy population of fish and critters in the Creek today, their hold is tenuous and the numbers really can’t stand up to much fishing or specimen collection.
Please leave the creek organisms as they are, or, if you must collect some for study, keep them alive so they can be put back in a healthy condition so everyone who comes to view or study them has a chance for a successful observation.
(Note: neither of the crawdad (crayfish) species in the Creek are native to the Western U.S.. Studies show they do have a negative impact on fish populations and there is discussion within the University over whether we should try to remove them from the Creek. For now, we’ll let them be, but stay tuned for an update.)
6) Why do I see garbage in and around Strawberry Creek?
There are two reasons really and they are closely related. First, creeks, streams, and rivers have, throughout history, always attracted people to them. And people bring with them their stuff; food, clothing, housing, animals, and modes of transportation. Unfortunately, lots of folks don’t really care what happens to their stuff when they are done with it so they either leave it where they were when they decided they didn’t want it anymore or they actually thrown it on the ground for whatever reason. So, to sum up, SOME people leave their stuff behind, on the ground, when they don’t want it anymore.
Second, creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, bays and oceans are often the lowest point in any given geographical area. This makes sense if you think about it; water flows downhill, always seeking the steepest, lowest terrain on its way to get to the Bay and it also makes its own channel or gully or canyon due to the ability of water to move and erode soil and rock. Well, you might ask, what does that have to do with garbage in and around Strawberry Creek? The answer is, garbage also wants to find the lowest spots to rest in. So when the wind blows across Campus, garbage that is carried by the wind often ends up down in the Creek. When rain falls and washes garbage into the storm drains, it too flows to the Creek.
Campus spends hundreds of thousands of dollars every year to try to pick up after people that don’t care what happens to the stuff they don’t want. And, there are regular Creek clean-ups held several times each year where VOLUNTEERS pick up garbage in and around the Creek. Even with all that effort, garbage still finds its way into the Creek; imagine how it would look if NOBODY cared about where there stuff ended up.
You can help. Pick up garbage when you see it and place it in the appropriate containers around Campus. If you see someone littering, diplomatically but firmly let them know that their behavior is NOT acceptable and that there are regulations prohibiting littering for all kinds of reasons. Finally, lead by example and let others see you handling your unwanted stuff in ways that are responsible and do no harm to the Creek and its surroundings.
7) Why are you pulling all the ivy (Periwinkle, acacia, etc.) out of the Creek-side natural areas?
Unfortunately, many of the plants brought to North America from other parts of the world for what ever reason- as food, as fodder, for aesthetics, for shade, erosion control, etc.- have turned into real pests once released into the wild. These species find their new home even better than their original one either due to warmer or wetter conditions or free from natural controls like grazing animals or insects, and they begin to dominate the ecosystems where they grow. Ivy, both Algerian and English, are one of the worst of these exotic plant species.
As green and lush and pleasant as ivy may appear it is unfortunately one of the most noxious plant species ever brought to North America (it’s originally from Central Asia and came here with European settlers in the late 1700’s).
What happens with ivy in California (and the rest of the Pacific Northwest too) is that it becomes “invasive” if just a little bit of it gets out into our wildlands and public open spaces- it so completely out-competes native plants in creek habitats and forests that it suppresses the diversity and ecosystem health that used to exist in those places. Because ivy can form a dense mat of stems and leaves along the ground, it can block other plants from growing AND the seeds from other plants can’t germinate due to the lack of sunlight, warmth, competition for moisture, and nutrients. Ivy can establish what is known as a “monoculture” where it becomes virtually the only plant growing in an area because it prevents other plants from growing along side of it.
Ivy can also grow up the trunks of trees and into the tree canopy in its search for sunlight. When enough ivy gets up high in the trees, it can cause the trees to become susceptible to broken branches and toppling due to the weight and density of all that tangled ivy mass. There are large areas of formerly diverse forests and riparian habitats in California, Oregon, and Washington that have been completely overwhelmed by “escaped” ivy and are now virtual ivy deserts. And ivy is very difficult to remove once it becomes established because fragments of ivy stems left in the ground can re-sprout to become new plants.
Have a question about Strawberry Creek? Send it to: tpine[at]berkeley[dot]edu
We’ll answer to the best of our ability and perhaps your question and the answer will wind up here at the FAQ!