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The Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW) Program

Project URL link
Sponsoring Agency Point Blue Conservation Science
Subregions ('North Bay', 'East Bay', 'South Bay', 'West Bay')
Counties Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma
Watershed Tributary
Public or private land? ()
Location (lat/lon) 38.227863,-122.590841
Start Date 04/01/2016
End Date 12/31/2019
Location Description The STRAW Project will include the implementation of multiple native planting and invasive plant removal projects in both riparian and wetland-upland transition zone habitat types around the San Pablo and San Francisco Bay watersheds. Restoration site selection will be guided by Point Blue’s Future Tidal Marshes Tool and the California Avian Data Center, to ensure both water quality protection and resilience to climate change. In-classroom education and participation in on-the-ground restoration will occur with schools in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma counties. See the project map included in the Background Documents for the location of watersheds where restoration projects occur and the communities that participate. Since this project has various site locations, Point Blue’s headquarters in Petaluma, CA, will be used as the Latitude/Longitude location.

Through multiple professionally designed, implemented and monitored habitat restoration programs, Point Blue Conservation Science’s award-winning Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed (STRAW) program meets multiple objectives and achieves multiple benefits in various IRWM functional categories, including Climate Change (Shoreline Sustainability), Health of the Bay and Creeks, Sediment Management, Invasives Management, and Riparian and Fisheries Restoration.  STRAW restores critical habitat for a wide range of both private and public land managers while providing meaningful K-12 environmental education, often in or near underserved communities in the Bay Area.

Drinking Water Supply
Water Quality Improvement
Water Reuse/Recycling
Stormwater Improvements
Groundwater Benefits
Habitat Protection and Restoration
Flood Protection
Our restoration projects improve water quality by reducing bank-side erosion and filtering storm water runoff into streams; restore and protect habitat by planting native plants along bare or degraded stream banks and wetland edges; provide flood protection by reducing invasive plant populations along stream banks; and educate and empower area students and community members to be active stewards of their land.

Part 2 - Detail

For the past 23 years, Point Blue‘s STRAW Program has provided award-winning watershed science education, including professional-quality habitat restoration, for thousands of Bay Area students and teachers. STRAW addresses the social component of stewardship through direct community involvement with practices that build resilient, healthy watersheds.  

We propose to implement multiple priority native planting and invasive plant removal projects in both riparian and wetland-upland transition zone habitat types around the San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay watersheds with schools and other community members.  We provide interactive habitat-specific education to all participants and extensive professional development to participating teachers. These educational practices enable STRAW to provide meaningful opportunities for many Bay Area school communities to engage in projects that actively help their communities adapt to a changing climate.  Substantial monitoring is incorporated into our project to confirm the effectiveness of our practices for educational value, vegetation establishment success, and wildlife benefit. STRAW will engage 9,933 project participants in restoring 25.08 hectares of riparian and wetland-upland habitat.

Eligibility Factors:

1.  Point Blue’s STRAW Program is currently a component of the 2013 Bay Area IRWM Plan. Further description of how this project addresses the Goals and Objectives of the BAIRWM Plan is described in the “BAIRWMP Goals” section.  

2. STRAW is 100% ready to proceed.  We have several pending project sites that do not require any environmental documentation or permitting. Planting designs and work plans will be finalized and installed upon award of funds. Implementation will begin during the 2016-2017 winter season. Project work and expenditure of funds will be completed by 2020.

3. We have substantial in-kind volunteer labor match to meet the 25% upfront match requirement.

4. STRAW has clearly defined physical benefits and associated metrics.

5. STRAW currently has a DWR-accepted Benefit/Cost analysis from the previous IRWM funding cycle of $14.22/$1 based on habitat creation and water quality improvement.

6. STRAW is able to pay our equitable share of the consultant costs for the regional application.

7. STRAW is widely supported through regional collaboration with many public and private agencies operating and managing properties around San Pablo Bay and San Francisco Bay.  In addition, our restoration practices are derived from, and have guided, the pertinent plans and frameworks for the region. Our dedicated network of teachers and community members around the Bay Area are ready to implement projects. 

8. STRAW projects meet multiple objectives and achieve multiple benefits in various IRWM functional categories, including Climate Change (Shoreline Sustainability), Health of the Bay and Creeks, Sediment Management, Invasives Management, and Riparian and Fisheries Restoration.

9. STRAW requests $5,500,000 with a 25% match of $1,375,000 for a total project cost of $6,875,000 over five years. The project is scalable by number and size of projects, depending on available funds.

10. STRAW has proven to be an impactful and effective community-based habitat restoration and education program throughout the Bay Area.  Participating schools and partners come from nine Bay Area counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma.

STRAW habitat restoration projects address the regional needs regarding water supply, water quality, storm water management, flood protection, and resource stewardship through community implemented habitat restoration. Bay Area streams and wetlands have experienced widespread degradation from development impacts such as polluted storm water runoff, loss of habitat, erosion and sedimentation problems, invasive species, increased flood severity, and decreased biodiversity.  As a result, the San Francisco Bay Estuary is one of the most modified estuaries in the United States (Goals Project 1999).     Many rural rural streams around the San Francisco Bay Area are ecologically compromised due to a lack of the plant communities that provides a mosaic of mid and upper canopy habitat structures.  The canopy these plant communities provide shade riparian areas to keep the water cool, which mitigates high summer temperatures.  In addition, these communities’ root structures help decompact the soil, increasing water’s ability to adequately infiltrate into the water table.  This compromised condition reduces a riparian system’s ability to keep water temperatures cool and absorb rainfall during the wet season. At a local scale, this ultimately reduces water availability for agricultural operations that rely on surface water catchment and wildlife.     Our projects are in watersheds with severe water quality needs. Many watersheds are categorized with either a 303D listing or TMDL designation for excess sediment and other pollutants. In addition to sediments, storm water runoff also carries herbicides, pesticides, excess nutrients, trash, and toxic particulates from roadways into waterways. Established native vegetation on rural creek banks captures and filters sediments and other pollutants from overland flows.     Non-native invasive plants often contribute to a reduction in water capacity of urban streams because these species are prone to block or clog flood channels. This relates to the regional priority of Invasive Management. For many of our North Bay watersheds, excess sediment is also a primary contributing factor to flooding problems because of the reduction in flood water capacity in channels due to the accrual of sediments in the channel beds.     Much of the existing creek and wetland-upland transition zones in the Bay Area are denuded, degraded, or otherwise low-functioning. Functioning riparian corridors provide many critical services and benefits for both wildlife and human communities, including habitat connectivity, thermal refugia, flood protection, and storm water filtration that improves water quality.  Riparian and wetland areas with degraded conditions are not providing these essential resources and benefits which relates to the regional priority of Riparian and Fisheries Restoration.     Past land management practices of development and removing native vegetation from the land have greatly reduced the landscape’s ability to absorb and sequester atmospheric carbon.  One of the most heavily impact systems with a high potential for sequestering atmospheric carbon are riparian forests.  The reestablishment of woody, perennial vegetation will greatly increase these system’s ability to mitigate the effects of anthropogenic climate change.     Just as we do not expect children to play in baseball games without practicing first, we should not expect children to become democratic citizens without also practicing first. Unfortunately, there are limited opportunities within the standard school system for students to see how their learning applies and connects to their community and the world. Additionally, community members who are disconnected from schools see students as people who could make a difference in the future, not now. Meaningful, shared work among students, teachers, and the community happens few and far between, further isolating ourselves and weakening our communities.     Students are constantly presented with accounts of increasing natural disasters, rising temperatures, and drought in recent decades (Sobel, 2006). With a continual increase in major environmental challenges that have resulted from human impact, it is essential for students to become environmentally literate through their preK-12 education to be ready to face challenges now and in the future (Nelson, 2013). Not only is it important for students to become environmentally literate for the future of conservation, but for reasons within social justice and community empowerment as well. Science acts as a “gate-keeping subject” as mastery within science can lead to more wealth and a higher socioeconomic status (Dimick, 2012 p.1009). Science education can, thus, be a leverage point for students in school (Dimick). Coupling science inquiry with social action projects is a perfect blend of academic empowerment currently and lead to political empowerment in the future (Dimick). Unfortunately, science education is not equally provided within all schools. Teachers and students in underserved schools are in need of engaging and meaningful science education opportunities. One such need teachers have is finding support in adopting new standards and curriculum. As the Next Generation Science Standards roll out across the state, teachers are searching for resources and opportunities to meet these standards. The standards are process and inquiry-based and many teachers feel overwhelmed by additional requirements and new ways of teaching. Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin-top:0in; mso-para-margin-right:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt; mso-para-margin-left:0in; line-height:115%; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri",sans-serif; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

This project will restore 25.08 hectares of critically needed riparian systems and wetland complexes in the Bay Area to improve water quality, wildlife habitat, open spaces, and the quality of life for the over seven million people who live in the area. In addition, the uncertainties of climate change call for innovative and scientifically sound habitat restoration techniques that ensure projects in Bay Area watersheds will be as resilient as possible. We will design our STRAW planting days with community volunteers using our innovative climate-smart restoration practices for riparian and wetland-upland transition zone habitat projects (Gardali et al. in review). 

If these projects are not implemented, 25.08 hectares of riparian and wetland systems will not:

·        Adequately filter sediment, and will contribute excess levels within the watershed

·        Adequately filter and clean storm water in urban creek systems

·        Provide food and shelter resources for resident and transitory wildlife

·        Protect our communities from flooding

·        Be more resilient to a changing climate

·        Aid in the reduction of atmospheric carbon

·        Provide shade to reduce water evaporation from denuded streams

·        Increase water infiltration through soil decompaction resulting from the root structures of established vegetation

In addition, over 9,933 community members, many of them from underserved areas, will not receive the opportunity to learn about the benefits of healthy functioning riparian and wetlands systems, and the numerous benefits they provide to their communities.  These community members also likely will not play an active role in ensuring their watersheds are resilient to a changing climate.

STRAW habitat restoration projects provide the critical physical benefits of increased water supply, water quality improvement, storm water management, increased flood protection, and increased resource stewardship through community implemented habitat restoration. All STRAW projects are designed to: 1) control erosion and sedimentation; 2) buffer storm water runoff to help reduce point and non-point source pollution into waterways; 3) improve watershed vegetation health and quality; 4) increase habitat value and connectivity for wildlife; 5) increase resilience of ecosystems, regardless of future climate scenarios; 6) maximize the amount of atmospheric carbon sequestered per hectare treated; and 7) increase in local water supply through a decrease in surface water evaporation and an increase in groundwater infiltration, and 8) educate and engage local communities in the implementation of critical creek and wetland revegetation projects. Through this project, a total of 25.08 hectares of creek and wetland-upland habitat will be improved and 9,933 people will learn about the environment and participate in habitat improvement projects.


1) Controlling erosion and sedimentation contributes many benefits to Water Quality and Flood and Stormwater Management. Many of STRAW’s active projects are in watersheds with either a 303D listing or TMDL designation for excess sediment and other pollutants. For many of our North Bay watersheds, excess sediment is also a primary contributing factor to flooding problems because of the reduction in flood water capacity in channels due to the accrual of sediments in the channel beds. Established native vegetation on rural creek banks captures and filters sediments from overland flows. Potential sediment inputs to creeks are calculated using the universal soil loss equation (USLE). Typical rural watersheds yield 0.3 tons of sediment per hectare. This sediment will filter through our completed restoration projects, reducing excess sediment inputs. The STRAW project’s impact is quantified by the area of creek bank restored at the time of planting.

2) Buffering storm water runoff increases the Water Quality of our waterways and improves Storm water Management of urban creeks. Planted wetland and riparian vegetation improves the quality of storm water runoff through filtration by established native vegetation.  Restoration of 15,000 ft. of stream with approximately 0.5 cfs flow will provide the treatment equivalent to a storm water treatment plant designed to treat 1.2 million gallons of runoff per day (Riley, et al. 2009). This benefit is quantified by the area of creek bank restored at the time of planting to calculate the number of gallons of runoff filtered.

3) Improving watershed vegetation health and quality increases the benefits of Flood Protection and Resource Stewardship. These projects provide lasting protection through flood prevention design practices that maximize native vegetation establishment while removing/discouraging species prone to block or clog flood channels. Established native vegetation inhibits future proliferation of non-native invasive plants that often contribute to a reduction in water capacity of streams.  This flood protection benefit is quantified at the time of removal of invasive plants by measuring the area of creek treated and the volume of invasive vegetative matter removed. This resource stewardship benefit is measured by reaching 70% survival of installed native plants each year for three years after installation.

4) Increasing habitat value and connectivity for wildlife provides benefits to Resource Stewardship by installing native plants in denuded, degraded, or otherwise low-functioning creek and wetland-upland transition areas. This benefit is quantified by measuring area of creek or wetland planted, calculating change in native woody plant diversity of restored creeks, measuring wildlife response in riparian song bird populations over time, and annual photo-monitoring for three years after installation.

5) Increasing resilience of ecosystems, regardless of future climate scenarios, benefits Resource Stewardship by utilizing “climate-smart” planting designs to ensure that these projects have diverse planting palettes making them as robust and resilient as possible. This benefit is measured at time of plant installation by calculating increase in native woody plant diversity.

6) Maximizing the amount of atmospheric carbon sequestered benefits Resource Stewardship by installing native woody vegetation. This benefit is calculated at the time of installation using the number, species, and area planted to determine the amount carbon sequestered by the plants installed. Planting 25.08 hectares with riparian forest will sequester 90.54 metric tonnes of CO2 per year.

7)  Increasing deep-rooted vegetation and canopy cover benefits Water Quantity by substantially reducing surface water evaporation and increasing groundwater infiltration. The benefit will be determined by a 70% increase of canopy cover over the life of the project as well as a 70% survival of installed species. 

8)  Educating and engaging local communities, many of them from underserved areas, in the implementation of critical habitat restoration projects benefits Resource Stewardship by providing a concrete means of learning about and affecting positive change in our watersheds and adapting to climate change. Additionally, STRAW supports teachers in many ways. In the hefty challenge of integrating and meeting Next Generation Science Standards, we work with teachers one-on-one and support them in identifying ways to meet NGSS through STRAW and beyond. Through our work with underserved schools, we connect students with science in approachable, fun, and memorable ways. We not only teach science through our program, but we provide students with the chance to see themselves as scientists. This benefit is measured by number of participants and volunteers in our projects and their change in environmental knowledge and attitudes at the time of their participation. This project will engage and educate 9,933 participants who will demonstrate a 75% increase in environmental knowledge.

Increases Water Supply Reliability
Advances/ Expands Conjunctive Management of Multiple Water Supply Sources
Increases Water Use and/or Reuse Efficiency
Provides Additional Water Supply
Promotes Water Quality Protection
Reduces Water Demand
Advances/Expands Water Recycling
Promotes Urban Runoff Reuse
Addresses Sea Level Rise
Addresses other Anticipated Climate Change Impact (e.g. through water management system modifications)
Improves Flood Control (e.g. through wetlands restoration, management, protection)
Promotes Habitat Protection
Establishes Migration Corridors
Re-establishes River-Floodplain Hydrologic Continuity
Re-introduces Anadromous Fish Populations to Upper Watersheds
Enhances and Protects Upper Watershed Forests and Meadow Systems
Other (Please Describe)
Increases Water Use Efficiency or Promotes Energy-Efficient Water Demand Reduction
Improves Water System Energy Efficiency
Advances/Expands Water Recycling
Promotes Urban Runoff Reuse
Promotes Use of Renewable Energy Sources
Contributes to Carbon Sequestration (e.g. through vegetation growth)
Other (Please Describe)
(low) - (high)
Drought Preparedness
Use and Reuse Water More Efficiently
Climate Change Response Actions (Adaptation to Climate Change, Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Reduce Energy Consumption)
Expand Environmental Stewardship
Practice Integrated Flood Management
Protect Surface and Groundwater Quality
Improve Tribal Water and Natural Resources
Ensure Equitable Distribution of Benefits
Reduce Reliance on the Bay-Delta
Reduce Water Demand
Improved Operational Efficiency and Transfers
Increase Water Supply
Improve Water Quality
Improve Flood Management
Practice Resources Stewardship
Other Strategies (Please Describe)
Groundwater Management Plan
Urban Water Management Plan
Water Meter Requirements
Groundwater Monitoring Requirements
AB 1420 Compliance
BMP Compliance
CEQA Compliance
Water supply reliability, water conservation and water use efficiency
Stormwater capture, storage, clean-up, treatment, and management
Removal of invasive non-native species, the creation and enhancement of wetlands, and the acquisition, protection, and restoration of open space and watershed lands
Non-point source pollution reduction, management and monitoring
Groundwater recharge and management projects
Contaminant and salt removal through reclamation, desalting, and other treatment technologies and conveyance of reclaimed water for distribution to users
Water banking, exchange, reclamation and improvement of water quality
Planning and implementation of multipurpose flood management programs
Watershed protection and management
Drinking water treatment and distribution
Ecosystem and fisheries restoration and protection
Reduced Reliance on the Bay-Delta
Projects that directly address a critical water quality or supply issue in a DAC
Urban water suppliers implementing certain BMPs as on page 17 of Guidelines
Be designed to manage stormwater runoff to reduce flood damage (PRC §5096.827)
Be consistent with the applicable Regional Water Quality Control Plans (Basin Plans) (PRC §5096.827)
Not be a part of the State Plan of Flood Control (SPFC) (PRC §5096.827)

Project team

Part 3 - Benefits