Exploring the Rich History and Ecological Significance of Putah Creek

Lake County possesses numerous creeks that lazily wind around our watershed.

Putah Creek is a key creek in our county. It can be found zigzaging down from the headwaters in the Mayacamas Mountains where it originates down to the Yolo Bypass tributary. The creek’s source is attributed to springs found on Cobb Mountain’s eastern side, set among the native alder and willow trees that shade the charming, cool pools which are ideal for trout. This watercourse surges through three counties: Lake, Napa and Solano.

The name for Putah Creek has several origin stories. The Lake Miwok Indigenous people called it puta wuwwe, or “grassy creek.” An account from documents of Mission San Francisco Solano, or Sonoma Mission explain that the Indians of this area were named Putto or Puttato. It was once called Young’s River after fur trapper, Ewing Young, a beaver hunter. In 1844 the creek was known as Arroyo de lost Putos. After several other names were ascribed to the creek over the course of time, today’s version of the name Putah Creek stuck. Today’s moniker is due to the Bancroft maps, and was adopted by the United States Geological Survey.

Our waterways are thriving once again with the recent rains; the wild storm’s intensity inspiring life in myriad forms. Drought conditions that occurred in the recent past wreak havoc on a creek’s diversity with the potential for a decline in native aquatic organisms- including valuable fish and then on up the food chain to avian species.

Dedicated Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) biologists play a key role in assessing the vigor of our waterways. The essential jobs of district fisheries biologists entail the assessment of the fisheries in Lake, Amador, Alpine, and Calaveras counties. To assess the fisheries, they use various sampling methods such as backpack and boat electrofishers, seines, traps, etc.

For small creeks, they employ a backpack shocker, and for lakes, they can launch and assess the water’s health from a boat. They attempt to conduct surveys as often as needed, but with the amount of waters needed to be assessed it is very difficult to get to all of them. The DFW also samples fisheries by conducting creel surveys in which anglers are asked how their fishing was. Then, the information gained plays a part in management decisions on these waters. The DFW then does a write-up on their water surveys, and the information can be looked at for others to determine the quality of the fishery in any given area. The DFW is responsible for private stocking permits, which entails assessing people’s property to see if they are able to plant certain fish on their property. A lot of backpacking and fieldwork is mandatory with the DFW job, and they spend a lot of time in the field.

As Putah Creek swirls with life, its glinting waters spreading the good news, now is the time to dip a toe into its quiet calm before the next storm. Peer down beneath your toes and wonder at the sedimentary stratigraphy here, such as sandstone, shale, and copious conglomerates. Look for the shape-shifting state rock, serpentine which can be any shade from green to black and can be metamorphic as well as igneous, containing peridotite directly from Earth’s mantle.

According to a Rolling Stone Magazine article, singer John Fogarty, formerly of the band Creedence Clearwater Revival named the song, ” Green River” after our own Putah Creek, since the creek tends to ‘green up’ during summer’s low-water times with an abundance of vascular plants and algae. Fogerty used to frequent Putah Creek near the town of Winters during his youth and, well, the rest is music history!

I can hear the bullfrog callin’ me how

Wonder if my rope’s still hangin’ to the tree

Love to kick my feet ‘way down the shallow water

Shoe fly, dragonfly, get back ‘t your mother

Pick up a flat rock, skip it across Green River


from “Green River” by John Fogerty, Creedence Clearwater Revival

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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