Grassroots Advocacy Groups Organize to Stem Toxic Runoff
Julie Horner joins a community workday to assist the local effort to stem toxic runoff from burned properties after the CZU Complex Fires.
On a bright Saturday morning in mid-November, about 30 volunteers gathered in the meadow just inside the gate to the community of Last Chance, coffee cups, water bottles, and sunscreen in hand. We had signed up in advance to join Fire Remediation and Recovery Action Days coordinated by a coalition of individuals and the grassroots groups Wildfire Protectors Corps, Santa Cruz Relief, Grow the Change, and CoRenewal to help prevent soil erosion and contain ash and toxins from structure burns by installing material to filter and break down toxic runoff before it enters the watershed. We’d be working side-by-side with environmental leaders, fire remediation experts, volunteers from all over Santa Cruz County, and neighbors from Last Chance who lost everything to the CZU Complex Fire. Over the course of a 3-day effort, as many as 80 volunteers were on hand in Last Chance to work through affected properties one by one. The coalition has visited sites where homes and structures burned in Bonny Doon, Boulder Creek, and Last Chance.
Last Chance is a rugged, back-to-the-earth alternative community in the hills above Davenport and the name of the approximately eight miles of dirt road that winds from Swanton Road at Highway 1 between Waddell and Scott Creeks into the western boundary of Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Along its spurs and private drives, few structures were spared by the CZU Complex Fire. With over 100 homesites affected, remediation and recovery has been something property owners have had to do on their own without support from the county or private insurers.
Fire Remediation and Recovery Action Days organizers coordinated with property owners to determine where to assign erosion control teams. Priority was determined by the ability of the property owner to mitigate their own toxins and by areas considered to be the most impacted.
Boulder Creek resident and community leader with Grow the Change, Rebekah Uccellini, and Tiffany Worthington of Wildfire Protectors Corps based in Santa Cruz delivered the welcome and overview before volunteers loaded into 4-wheel drive vehicles, most driven by Last Chance locals. Once at our assigned property many miles into the heart of the community, Oroville based permaculture educator, consultant, and designer, Matt Trumm, who lost his own home in the Paradise Fire and whose work in Paradise has set the standard for community fire remediation, and Mau Rivera of Sherwood Design Engineers talked volunteers through the basics.
Our job was to swale and contour areas around burned structures; lay and stake lengths of straw wattle into the contours to direct runoff; pair the wattles with 20-foot compost socks to absorb toxins; inoculate the wattles with native fungi; and then pack low points on slope with straw to act as catch basins to contain toxins. Mycelium-inoculated wattles, called “myco-wattles,” are part of a pioneering area of study to put living organisms back into the soil to help regenerate the scarred earth while also acting to remediate heavy metals, plastics, and other chemicals from toxic ash. In our case, native oyster mushroom mycelium was provided.
While compost socks and wattles look similar, they each perform a separate role in controlling toxic runoff. Straw wattles are used for erosion control and to direct water runoff away from sensitive areas and toward the compost sock, which is filled with wood chips and other organic materials that are good at containing toxins. Compost socks are most effective when placed about five feet from the burn site, while straw wattles can be used anywhere in the site to control water flow.
Initially, areas are assessed to estimate how rainwater will run off, and colored flags are placed to indicate to handcrews where to apply the wattles and compost socks. Teams then use pick-axes and shovels to create a swale, or shallow channel, in line with the markers where the wattles and compost socks will be laid on contour. Next, crews drive wooden stakes into the wattles and compost socks at specific intervals to hold them in place, about every four feet. Crews then optionally stuff a handful of mycelium-inoculated straw into the wattles at two-foot intervals. Absorbent material can be removed as hazmat after the rainy season.
Work with organizers to help build policy and develop community coalition: wildfireprotectorscorps.org | email@example.com
If you need runoff control materials, complete the request form from the Resource Conservation District of Santa Cruz County: https://forms.gle/yHejGsrzq25U4bzf9
Join the Boulder Creek Wattle Project on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BCWattleProject
SLV Post-Fire Environmental Resources
Read more about environmental action in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the San Lorenzo Valley Post.
© November 2020 Julie Horner for the San Lorenzo Valley Post
Read more in the San Lorenzo Valley Post online: https://slvpost.com/post-fire-watershed-defense