San Mateo Creek Flows Again!

14 01 2017
Looking southeast at the estuary/lagoon.  Note the breach to the right.

Looking southeast at the estuary/lagoon. Note the breach to the right.

It’s been a few years, but the San Mateo Creek watershed “sponge” finally got full and started to overflow.  That is, all the soils upstream got full of water and started to seep/flow into the gullies that make up the watershed.  And, down to the creek bed and out to the ocean.

The last time it really flowed significantly was in December 2010; and flow it did, for almost six months.  It will be interesting to see how long it continues to flow with the off and on storms predicted over the next week or more.

The Trestles and the watershed.

The Trestles and the watershed.

Could the Southern California drought finally have broken?  Too early to tell, but it’s off to a good start.

Word is the creek broke out of the estuary/lagoon through the sand berm and out onto the reef at Uppers this morning.  You can see by the mud plumes in the ocean that it has been flowing for several hours at the time of these photos about 4:00 p;m today.

As happens with natural water courses, each time it breaks out, the flow “braids” to a new path.  We all got used to the “lagoon” that was dug out by the 2010 storms.  This time, the flow shoots straight out, dumping a lot of sand, and probably some cobbles, on top of the reef just north of what we call “Garcia-land,”  which is the north shoulder of the point. Wonder what new shape the bottom will take now.  Maybe a lagoon on each side of the point?  Maybe a  “north bay” and a “south bay?”

From over Garcia-land.  Notice the muddy surfline water.

From over Garcia-land. Notice the muddy surfline water.

Enjoy the photos.  A video may show up over the next few days.

Liquid gold.

Liquid gold.

Filling the reef with sand.

Filling the reef with sand.

Red-Legged Frogs at San Onofre State Beach?

26 06 2014

What’s hoppin’ at Uppers?

Not this poor little guy.

iPhone5-sized frog (with flash)

iPhone5-sized frog (with flash)

iPhone5-sized frog (without flash)

iPhone5-sized frog (without flash)

On Wednesday, June 25th, I found him in the sand at water’s edge at the mouth of San Mateo Creek, the lagoon that flows into our favorite surf spot, Upper Trestles, at San Onofre State Beach. He had already expired very recently, maybe from the salt water, but the nearby sea gulls had not spotted him yet.

Have you ever heard of the Caliornia Red-Legged Frog (Rana draytonii), a “threatened” species under the Federal Endangered Species Act?   There are protected “critical habitats” throughout many areas of California for this species, from the coast to the mountains, though I didn’t see any areas mapped for Orange County.

Now I am not a herpetologist, but this does appear to be a frog.  And, it does appear to have reddish legs.  So, I passed it along to the San Clemente State Park staff to determine what to do with it.

If it is a red-legged frog, it would not be the first species on the Federal ESA list to be found in the San Mateo Creek watershed.  It is one of the last mostly-untouched wilderness areas along the Southern California coast.  Thank God for the Marines and their Camp Pendleton Base that protects the lower watershed and divinely-created critters like this.

Let’s all do our part to preserve the nature around us that makes Trestles such an idyllic refuge for all of us.

Death of a Lagoon

7 06 2010

The Mighty San Mateo

Remember what San Mateo Creek looked like this past winter, after the creek pushed past the sand berm as it reached for the ocean?  Cool, clear water flowing day and night, storm or no storm.

Have you seen it lately?

This is what it looked like this last weekend.  Soon to be a rotting, stinking, choked out, stagnant mess.  The mosquitoes love it.

Green Death

I didn’t have a chance to look for chironomids, back swimmers or other invertebrates that like to hang around the benthic (bottom scum) layer in a healthy wetland.  But the thick mats of algae are a sure sign the water is out of balance.

I couldn’t find any water quality data to verify it for San Mateo Creek, and particularly the lagoon, but it sure looks like something is feeding tons of phosphorus, nitrogen and other fertilizers into the creek.

Could be the El Nino storms mobilizing the phosphorus that is usually tied up in soils, but gets released into streams during high flows.  Or, it could be the “legacy nitrogen” fertilizer still in the old tomato fields of the bottom lands just east of the freeway.

Whatever is feeding it, the “green death” has blossomed with the warm temperatures and full days of sunlight.  Algae is natural, but the green cotton candy currently growing in the lagoon has to be sucking every atom of oxygen out of the water at night when the filamentous plants go into their dark cycle.  Likely there aren’t many fish, or any other oxygen-dependent creatures, left in the lagoon.  Hopefully, they worked their way upstream to more oxygen-rich water.

The Lagoon Cut Off From the Sea

There is hope, in time.  Eventually, the algae will grow itself to death, sink to the bottom of the lagoon, and become a carbon source for bacteria that will release the nitrogen back to the atmosphere where it makes up 78% of the air.  The algae are just a problem right now while there is too much of them.

One last thought.  Let’s just hope there are no algae of the blue green variety.  They and their friends can release domoic acid that can bioaccumulate in shellfish and  make mammals that eat them, like dolphins and sea lions, to lose their memories and sometimes kill them.  A similar thing can happen during a red tide, which most surfers are familiar with.

All this death from well-meaning fertilizers.  So, next time you want that lawn a little greener, don’t over do.  It could be killing a beach or lagoon near you.