There are several things that Rohnert Park has that many Petaluma residents have said they don’t want: A casino, sprawling housing developments, drive-thrus, a Walmart Supercenter, to name a few. To that list, we can add water from Copeland Creek.
The waterway has been identified as contributing to Petaluma’s flooding woes during harsh winter storms. But water from Copeland Creek is not even meant to end up in Petaluma let alone anywhere near our watershed.
Copeland Creek begins as a stream on the slopes of Sonoma Mountain. It’s natural course meanders down to Rohnert Park, where it has been channelized, before spilling into the Laguna de Santa Rosa and eventually the Russian River.
Copeland Creek is at the extreme southern edge of the Russian River watershed, just feet from the boundary that divides it from the Petaluma River watershed. In major flooding events, Copeland Creek jumps its banks around Lichau Road north of Penngrove, and the water heads south into Petaluma.
This is problematic since the Petaluma River watershed during major storms is typically already at flood stage. Adding water from a creek that is not even part of our watershed will invariably cause our creeks and rivers to crest their banks.
Engineers have known about this issue for more than a century. A state report from 1896 recommends a $500 investment to shore up the creek bank and keep the water flowing in the natural course. But that solution was not implemented, and now it is going to be much more complicated and expensive.
During big storms, intrepid residents around Lichau Road as well as county workers scramble to patch up the banks of Copeland Creek with sandbags and cement barriers, but a more permanent solution, including regular creek maintenance, is needed. The trouble is, with state and federal environmental regulations in place — not to mention that Copeland Creek is a habitat for the threatened steelhead trout — just studying the solution could take years.
A multi agency task force is in place to study the issue and recommend solutions. Unfortunately, a solution will not likely be in place by the time the next big storm hits, meaning more water from outside of our area flooding the streets of Petaluma.
Petaluma has already invested millions in creek maintenance and flood protection on waterways within the Petaluma River watershed. The task force should work diligently to protect Petaluma from outside flood waters.