Author Archives: Cassie Miller

New residents at Cordova Creek

Posted on Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

New Residents at Cordova Creek

Overview of Cordova Creek in July 2018

If you have recently strolled through Cordova Creek, you may (or maybe not) have noticed new additions to the creek – beaver dams! On the one hand, this is an exciting indicator of the successful naturalization of the area, as native species continue to utilize the site and make it their home! Though beavers provide numerous ecological benefits –like increasing biodiversity, preventing downstream flooding, and minimizing pollutants – they can also simultaneously cause problems in urban environments, commonly referred to as human-wildlife conflict.

Our CivicSpark Fellow Cassie has worked diligently to find a solution to balance the needs of the beaver with the successful establishment of the creek.

Left: Beaver dam creating a pond ecosystem Right: The pond leveler installed and managing pond dimensions

As the ubiquitous population of North American beavers (Castor canadensis) has steadily recovered from historic depletion, it has become increasingly apparent that these aquatic mammals can fundamentally modify existing hydrologic regimes. Due to this ability to change their environment, beavers have earned the status and nickname of ecosystem engineers. In natural environments, their engineering abilities can be incredibly beneficial.

However, the initial dam on Cordova Creek had detrimental impacts on the newly naturalized site. The beaver dam caused nearby banks to submerge, which in turn caused the drowning of young plants and it began to overflow across the trail. Additionally, the beaver removed cottonwood trees, young willows, and many yards of irrigation which cascaded into many more plant problems.

Though the damage caused by the beaver was not easy to ignore, we recognized that it would be unreasonable to get mad at a beaver for simply doing what beavers do. Thus, we brainstormed ways to live peacefully with the beaver, while continuing to maintain the site in its early years of establishment. Through the help of Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito & Vector Control District, a pond leveler was installed on the creek. The pond leveler is a pipe that goes through the dam to allow a certain amount of water to pass through the dam whilst maintaining a pond environment for the beaver.

Additionally, through the help of Soil Born Farms, their summer high school interns spent a morning on Cordova Creek assisting in wrapping vulnerable cottonwood trees with fencing to protect the trees from beaver herbivory. Cottonwood trees have slower growth rates compared to willows which will naturally recover faster from beaver herbivory. Now that the cottonwoods will have a chance to grow, they will be able to provide some shade to the many walkers, runners, and cyclists enjoying the trail.

Left: Student interns prepare to wrap a cottonwood tree Right: Student interns pose and smile after wrapping 15 cottonwood trees

As Cordova Creek continues to establish itself, we look forward to welcoming new wildlife residents to the neighborhood and finding innovative ways to resolve any more human-wildlife conflicts that may arise.

Managing Cordova Creek: Staying ahead of Star Thistle

A native to Mediterranean Europe, the yellow star thistle (Centaurea solstitialis) made its way to California during the mid-19th century, likely via Chile through contaminated alfalfa mixes. With the lack of natural herbivores, the star thistle has the ability to create monotypic stands along disturbed landscapes. Their voracious nature eliminates and prevents other plants from growing, which degrades ecosystems and acts as a physical barrier for animal and human movement in wild spaces. Currently, it is estimated that star thistle occupies over 15 million acres of California’s floristic zone, and Cordova Creek, along with the American River Parkway, is no exception.

An unseasonably wet winter ‘16-17, hot summer, and the recently disturbed soil from Cordova Creek’s construction, all aligned to create an ideal habitat for star thistle to thrive in. As a result, the population exploded to an unprecedented level that the Water Forum and our partners were unprepared to fully manage. However, we are using the knowledge that we learned from last year’s experience to guide our current management strategies.

Starting in April, work crews have diligently hand-pulled and removed thousands of young star thistle growing throughout Cordova Creek. Despite their hard work, star thistle persistently exists in a few problem areas. To help address these problem areas, the Cordova Recreation & Park District,  Soil Born Farms, and the American River Flood Control District kindly agreed to each donate a day of mowing at Cordova Creek. Mowing star thistle can be extremely effective as a removal technique if timed correctly – once the plants have matured, bolted, and are at ~10% flowering. Mowing during this critical period prevents seeds from developing, and, without rain, the plants will be unable to regrow and flower this season.

We appreciate the help of Cordova Parks and Recreation, Soil Born Farms, and the American River Flood Control District as we manage and control star thistle. We are confident that the combined efforts will ensure the success of Cordova Creek and the immense amount of ecosystem services that it provides to the community!

For more information on how to manage star thistle in your own area: Yellow Star Thistle Management Guide

A Day on the Farm

Posted on Thursday, May 31st, 2018

A Rock-ing Day on the Farm

All photos in this post are copyright Joan Cusick Photography.

Over 1,000 visitors explored Soil Born Farms during what’s become a regional favorite event, “A Day on the Farm.” Soil Born annually coordinates this event to celebrate the seasonal opening

of their farm stand and allow visitors a chance to learn more about the farm and its surrounding environment, eat local food, play, and create.

The Water Forum hosted a booth at Farm Day, to highlight Cordova Creek and emphasize its abundant resources and unique history. As you might recall, from 2014-2017 the Water Forum collaborated with multiple organizations, including


Soil Born, to naturalize Cordova Creek which had previously been a cement-lined drain. Though only a year since completion, the native plants continue to grow and mature, and a charismatic beaver has built a dam and made Cordova Creek its home. Though the Water Forum and  Sacramento County Regional Parks are coordinating the maintenance in the early years, Soil Born Farms is poised to be the stewards of the creek.

In addition to raising awareness of the creek, the Fellows lead a children’s rock painting

booth. The perpetually crowded booth soon became enveloped in rocks of all colors and designs – unicorns, basketballs, marbleized, narwhals, and more! They were able to paint rocks to keep and to donate to Cordova Creek. Since Cordova Creek is only a year old, many of the plants are still quite young. To ensure that they grow big and strong, we want to make sure that they are visible. The rocks that the community helped decorate will be placed around the native plants as a border. The colorful, painted rocks will make them stand out so that they do not get accidentally stepped upon, pulled out, or mowed.

Next time you visit Cordova Creek, be on the lookout for colorful rocks sprinkled along the trail!

Sutterville Elementary School Science Night

Posted on Wednesday, May 9th, 2018

Sweet Science at Sutterville Elementary School Science Night 


Amid hand-made solar system displays, shoeboxes transformed into rainforests, caverns, colorful coral reefs, and other miniature habitats, and a few slime-making booths, our Water Fellows Kat and Cassie set up a table focused on Chinook salmon life cycle in the Lower American River.

Sutterville Elementary School hosts a large Science Night for students and their families annually. The night is a chance for the students to show off their science projects and learn from local scientists. Kat and Cassie spent the evening talking with students explaining the salmon lifecycle, the importance of gravel, and the Water Forum’s restoration projects in the Lower American River. After listening to the fellows speak, the students had the opportunity to make their own candy redds, using chocolate rocks, gummy fish, and nerds to symbolize salmon eggs! They also had the chance to observe preserved salmon eggs and their development, kindly lent to the Water Forum for the night from the Nimbus Hatchery.

The event created a space to spark curiosity and an early interest in science for the young learners, provide examples of scientific careers, and to ameliorate understanding of how the world fits together so that we can all care for it accordingly.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Biologists

Posted on Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Inspiring the Next Generation of Biologists at the American River

March 23, 2018

Bright and early, nearly 60 first grade students from Dewey Elementary school began to bounce off the buses and race towards the roaring American River. Armed with their very own biologist kits, the first graders begin to explore the river and gain a hands-on experience of what the life of a field biologist entails!

For the fourth year the Water Forum, in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, CBEC, and C.A. Department of Fish and Wildlife, seeks to provide an immersive learning opportunity for local first graders to connect with their environment and to support an early interest in science. Through a series of stations where the students participate in a dissection, substrate sorting and red building, seining, bug identification, and water quality testing, the students learn:

  1. What fish make the river their home and what those fish look like
  2. The diet of a young salmon
  3. The criteria for good spawning habitat
  4. The criteria for good habitat for young fish
  5. How to keep the river healthy for salmon and other living things

The Water Forum looks forward to continuing this partnership and inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards!


Lions, and Tigers, and Wolves – Oh My!

Posted on Thursday, February 8th, 2018

Local Cub Scouts Spend an Afternoon at Cordova Creek

Local cub scouts and CivicSpark Fellows Cassie and Kat gather to learn about the history of the Cordova Creek Naturalization Project


December 10, 2017:

On an unseasonably warm December afternoon, 13 Cub Scouts and their

Cub scouts excitedly gather to admire Cordova Creek

families joined the CivicSpark Fellows (Water Forum) and Mary Maret (Sacramento County Regional Parks) for an afternoon of service and hiking along Cordova Creek, our recent restoration site in Rancho Cordova. Prior to the restoration project, Cordova Creek was nothing more than a concrete-lined storm drainage running through an abandoned agricultural field. The Water Forum and many partners (including Sacramento County Regional Parks, Soil Born Farms, and others) worked together to remove the concrete-lined storm drain and modify it to mirror a naturalized, meandering creek with CA native plants growing along and adjacent to the creek.


The scouts, all aged between 6-7 years old, spent the first half hour of their visit learning about the history

The scouts gather around Mary to learn how to plant acorns

of Cordova Creek, different aspects of riverine ecosystems, and the value of conservation and restoration. Then the group walked along the creek and discussed the importance of planting native vs. non-native plants. As soon as they reached the midway point of Cordova Creek, the scouts excitedly raced to the water’s edge and admired the creek.


After the fellows regained the scouts’ attention, the scouts were separated into two groups to begin their service work! Half the group planted acorn with Mary Maret and CivicSpark Fellow Kat Perkins. The remaining scouts and their families followed Cassie and worked together to remove the metal pins securing the irrigation lines in place that had begun to pinch and cause leaks in the water hoses. After an hour, the groups switched places so that everyone could experience each service event.


Both projects required teamwork and patience, and their successful efforts resulted in the planting of 48 acorns and the removal of 354 irrigation pins! We appreciate all the scouts’ hard work and look forward to seeing them again next year!

The cub scouts and CivicSpark Fellow Cassie gather near Cordova Creek for an end of the day group picture

Welcome New CivicSpark Fellows

Posted on Monday, January 22nd, 2018

  Welcome, New CivicSpark Fellows!

CivicSpark Central Inland Regional Team during their 50 Bikes for 50 Kids Service Event — The Water Forum’s Fellows are Kat Perkins (Top row, second from left) and Cassie Miller (Top Row, second from right)

The Water Forum is excited to introduce our two new CivicSpark Fellows who joined our team in November, and will work with us during their 11-month fellowship!


What is CivicSpark?

Map illustrating placement sites of CivicSpark Fellows

CivicSpark was launched in 2014 as a Governor’s Initiative AmeriCorps program as a dedicated way to build capacity for local Californian governments to address climate change and water management issues. The program, administered by the Local Government Commission in partnership with the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, offers two Fellowship tracks: CivicSpark Climate (50 fellows) and CivicSpark Water (20 fellows). The fellows working at the Water Forum are both members of the Water track.

The 70 Fellows are placed in 7 regions across California, extending from urban centers to rural areas, north to south, and coastal to inland. The Fellows work with local governments to assist their agency’s response to climate change and water management through direct agency support, fostering regional partnerships, and supporting community engagement. Over the course of the service year, the Fellows complete research, planning and implementation of much needed climate and water-focused projects while striving to build long-term capacity to ensure that their work is sustained past their service year.

Meet Our Fellows

Cassandra Miller


Growing up in arid New Mexico, Cassie Miller developed an appreciation for the importance of water from a very young age. Cassie went on to pursue a degree in Biology with a concentration in Environmental Studies from Grinnell College and graduated in May 2016. Post-graduation, Cassie pursued her love of arid ecology and science accessibility by completing an 11-month Grinnell Corps Service Fellowship at Gobabeb Training and Research Centre, Namibia. At Gobabeb, Cassie developed and lead arid ecology programs for visitors and students, and assisted in the maintenance of the center’s long-term research. Living in the heart of the Namib Desert re-sparked Cassie’s interest in water resource management, thus leading to her current work with the Water Forum.

Projects at the Water Forum:

In addition to assisting in the exciting day-to-day at the Water Forum, which includes salmon carcass surveys and SGMA implementation, Cassie will be leading the continued maintenance effort for the Cordova Creek Naturalization project. She will coordinate and lead invasive species management and native plantings around the creek and work to develop a sustainable volunteer group in Rancho Cordova to increase awareness and use of the creek.

Why you applied to CivicSpark:

Cassie was attracted to the CivicSpark Fellowship because of its focus on creating links between environmental science and policy. Through this experience, Cassie hopes to gain a larger understanding of ways that science can guide policy to create solutions for a more sustainable future.

What are you most excited about this service year:

Cassie is excited to learn about the water world and the inner-workings of water resource management! She is eager to expand her understanding of aquatic science and is looking forward to transferring what she learns this year to policy work in her home state of New Mexico. She’s grateful to be in California and take advantage of the opportunity to explore new ecosystems and be in Sacramento, the nation’s leading actor on climate change policy!

Katherine Perkins


Kat Perkins graduated from UC Davis this past Spring with a degree in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. Her passion for ecological stewardship extends back to her grade school days when she and her mom relocated thousands of spadefoot tadpoles from a stream near their inland San Diego County home threatened by suburban development. During college, Kat served as treasurer of her non-profit co-operative housing association and interned in educational gardens and farms. Before becoming a CivicSpark fellow, she worked as a technician on a study investigating the relationship between climate change and grapevine phenology. After shifting her focus to the terrestrial world, Kat has returned to a riverine ecosystem like the salmon she is now studying. She would like to continue working in social and environmental science, policy and planning, and to eventually earn an advanced degree, possibly in geography.

Projects at the Water Forum:

During her fellowship, Kat’s concentration will be on developing a methodology for aerial redds counts. She will take the lead on other GIS-related work like her current project of creating a triptych of the river for the conference room. Kat will also assist Cassie with the development of the Friends of Cordova Creek program and take on office tasks and fieldwork when needed.

Why you applied to CivicSpark:

Kat sees her fellowship as a prime opportunity to hone her project management and mapping skills while serving a region she has come to know and love over the last four years.

What are you most excited about this service year:

Kat is most looking forward to collaborating with and learning from Water Forum stakeholders and scientists as well as growing a powerful network of like-minded peers through the CivicSpark fellow community.


The Water Forum is excited to work with our Fellows and mentor them throughout the year! 😊