From liability to asset

Tragic death sparks shift in community’s restoration focus

AmeriCorps team member Tucker Merbaugh, along with employees of the Riverside County Flood Control District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and community volunteers work together to cultivate native riparian plants along the Meadowview Creek streambank. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

AmeriCorps team member Tucker Merbaugh, along with employees of the Riverside County Flood Control District, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and community volunteers work together to cultivate native riparian plants along the Meadowview Creek streambank. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS


By Maideline Sanchez
April 30, 2019

Teri Biancardi remembers vividly the day a dangerous restoration issue in her community came to light.

“Two little boys were digging tunnels along the streambank. The tunnels collapsed on top of the boys and only one was able to escape. This happened just six inches from our property line,” recalled the board member of the Meadowview Community Association — a homeowners association in Temecula, Calif.

Native riparian plants are grown at a nursery owned and managed by Meadowview  Community Association before they are transferred to Meadowview Creek. Credit: Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS.

Native riparian plants are grown at a nursery owned and managed by Meadowview Community Association before they are transferred to Meadowview Creek. Credit: Joanna Gilkeson/USFWS

Prior to the tragedy, the association was working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, implementing upland restoration projects such as controlling non-native plants and weeds using goats, and installing burrowing owl nest boxes.

The streambank collapse that cost a child’s life sparked conversation among residents about public safety and liability. The community agreed conditions along the portion of the stream managed by the community association had to be addressed.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Jonathan Snapp-Cook. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Jonathan Snapp-Cook. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

Working with the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program and a local office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Meadowview Community Association presented a streambed restoration plan to the Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District and other agencies. The plan relied on bio-engineering - the use of plants - in conjunction with traditional engineering design to fix the stream banks deeply eroded by runoff.

“When we started on this project, some of our partners hadn’t previously incorporated bio-engineering methods,” said Jonathan Snapp-Cook, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program biologist. “We teamed up with NRCS and the Meadowview Community Association to design this project for public safety and habitat restoration.

“We included traditional risk-reduction infrastructure such as rip-rap and incorporated bio-engineering techniques like using woven socks filled with seeds and compost to help anchor the stream’s slopes.”

Various native riparian plants are positioned next to their color-coded flags along the Meadowview streambank before they are placed in the soil. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

Various native riparian plants are positioned next to their color-coded flags along the Meadowview streambank before they are placed in the soil. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

In the second phase of the project, AmeriCorps and other volunteers installed native plants to stabilize the streambank and benefit wildlife. Interpretive signs will be erected by the association to educate residents exploring the restoration site.

The restoration cost was just over $500,000 with most of the funding provided by the Flood Control District and NRCS. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program contributed $49,000.

“Overall, we accomplished the desired flood control and safety aspects of the project and also created a natural space for wildlife to thrive,” said Snapp-Cook.

Meadowview Community Association residents who volunteered to do restoration work follow a trail to view the restored site. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

Meadowview Community Association residents who volunteered to do restoration work follow a trail to view the restored site. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

David Garcia, a project manager for the Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, oversaw the construction of risk reduction infrastructure along the stream.

“I want to see the Meadowview streambank stabilized so the residents have a safe place to go for recreation and enjoyment. I also look forward to seeing the enhanced habitat provided for the local wildlife,” he said.

“I hope the Meadowview stream restoration project is not the last, but the first of what will eventually be many projects in our region that combine storm water management with a whole suite of benefits, such as creating habitat and recreational opportunities, as well as improving water quality,” Biancardi said. “The old mindset of seeing nature as the adversary, that it must be tamed, is changing. It has to change. And we need to continue to find ways to work within our natural environment for long-term and sustainable solutions.”

Community volunteers and AmeriCorps team members pose for a photo at the conclusion of the work day at Meadowview Creek. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

Community volunteers and AmeriCorps team members pose for a photo at the conclusion of the work day at Meadowview Creek. Credit: Maideline Sanchez/USFWS

Maideline Sanchez

Maideline Sanchez

About the writer...

Maideline Sanchez is a public affairs intern in the Carlsbad, California, Fish and Wildlife Office. While in the military, she was stationed on the West Coast where she gained a deep appreciation for the outdoors. She currently assists our public affairs team with graphic design, photography and wildlife stories across Southern California.