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Assemblyman Gray: Bear Creek to get $6 million facelift

State Assemblyman Adam Gray listens as Mayor Matthew Serratto speaks about the importance of new investment that will restore the Bear Creek waterway through Merced.
State Assemblyman Adam Gray listens as Mayor Matthew Serratto speaks about the importance of new investment that will restore the Bear Creek waterway through Merced.

State Assemblyman Adam Gray and Mayor Matthew Serratto shook hands at a picturesque press conference on the bank of Bear Creek on Tuesday morning, kicking off plans to renovate the waterway to a tune of $6 million.

The project will cover a 6-mile stretch of Bear Creek, from the bridge at McKee Road to the bridge at 16th Street. Teams will remove trash and invasive plants and overgrowth that are dominating the area and crowding out the Creek’s natural habitat.

“There is no more important issue than water in the valley,” Gray said in a statement. “The Merced, Tuolumne, Stanislaus, and San Joaquin rivers that flow through our district provide the lifeline for farms, jobs, and food production. Restoring and preserving the creek will significantly enhance its natural functions and create recreational opportunities for walkers, runners, and bike riders.”

The $6 million in funding will come from the $40 million secured by Gray this year for the San Joaquin River Partners, a conservancy organization that works to preserve the river and its waterways.

The first step at Bear Creek is conducting a series of surveys. A topographic survey of the creek embankment will identify places where restoration is needed and where excavation has made the land susceptible to flood damage. A vegetation survey will identify where the invasive plant species are located and a hydrologic survey will determine the creek’s current floodwater capacity. That process will likely take around 12 to 18 months, according to officials.

The state and federal permitting process comes after that, so don’t expect work on the project to start for at least another year.

The long term goals of the project go beyond strengthening the embankment and removing invasive plants, though. Teams will restore native plant species and improve the water quality of the creek by reducing the sediment from damaged bank areas. Doing so will increase the habitat diversity and make it a place where fish, birds and other wildlife can thrive in conditions closer to what the creek looked like before Merced even existed. The point is to make the creek a more beautiful place for residents to spend time.

“I can’t tell you how many people who told me they had such a connection and such a history with this creek,” said Serratto. “It’s just an immensely beautiful part of our city, it’s the centerpiece in many ways.”

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