Leona Creek, upstream from Mills College’s Lake Aliso, is an unforgettable sight. Since Leona Creek is affected by acid mine drainage from the Leona Heights Sulfur Mine that closed 84 years ago, the river bed is bright orange due to the iron sulfate that reacts chemically with the oxygen in the air. It has no wildlife and vegetation in the creek due to the high levels of heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic.
On Feb. 27th, there was a community meeting at the Leona Lodge led by the Regional Water Board, and the City of Oakland to discuss the details of the clean-up of Leona Creek, led by the Water Board, and the prevention of heavy metals from transferring to other bodies of water. The issue of cleaning up Leona Creek has been the subject of a lawsuit for several decades.
Britta Bullard, the Sustainability Coordinator, has led projects to clean up the creek on Mills campus.
“When I first got here, my first collaborator thought the creek was never going to be cleaned up because it’s on private property,” Bullard said.
Lindsay Whalin, a geologist and chemist of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (“Water Board”), said the issue of acid mine drainage is very rare in the Bay Area. Leona Creek is the worst in terms of acidity.
According to Whalin the Creek does not pose a threat to humans, but there are concentrations of metals and arsenic that exceed water quality standards for the protection of wildlife.
The project will be financed by property owner, Collin Mbanugo, according to SFGate. After many failed attempts by the Regional Water Board to start the project since 1992, the Water Board threatened to fine the property owner $10,000 per day the project deadline was missed until the creek runs clear. The owner is not affiliated with the mine operators.
Bullard and her student volunteers have worked to remove invasive plants and replanting native plants near Leona Creek.
“In terms of my interactions with and place in the watershed, my perspective is coming from years of work days to restore our native habitat during the week,” Bullard said. “Being a member of the community who works on restoration efforts for the creek, I’m really excited. I’m wondering what sort of wildlife might become stronger because the water will be cleaner.”
Lake Aliso which despite its name, is actually a reservoir, is contaminated not only from the runoff of Leona Creek but also from the runoff from the freeways, trout ponds, and from city streets. According to Zitzner the Leona Creek clean-up will also benefit Lake Aliso.
“The lake should be cleaner, with the exception of occasional mud, and habitable,” Ziztner said. “There’s nothing in the lake. There are frogs that live around the lake. It will change the ecology.”
Dr. Kristina Faul, associate professor of Environmental Science, has been doing research on Lake Aliso and two other urban man-made lakes in the East Bay.
According to Faul, the Water Board is going to keep all the metals upstream with the clean-up.
“Instead of our lake being a trap for all those heavy metals, it will be trapped at the source, which means the downstream lake and creek will be much healthier,” Faul said.
Dr. Sarah Swope, visiting professor of biology, feels that the clean-up of Leona Creek will be beneficial to the students at Mills.
“It has great potential to be a major restoration project that has both ecological importance and that can serve as great teaching tool right here on campus,” Swope said.
The official clean-up of Leona Creek is slated to start in May 2014 and will be completed on Sep 30th, 2014 due to the upcoming rainy season.
For more information regarding the clean-up of Leona Creek, please contact Whalin at email@example.com or Darin Ranelletti of the City of Oakland at firstname.lastname@example.org.