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Students tour Merritt pumping station

County pump station channels changes to Laney

By Abigail Reser
On November 8, 2012


It was a typical gorgeous fall afternoon in Oakland when the sidewalk started sinking beneath us. Or, rather, the elevator shaft neatly disguised as sidewalk on the East Eighth Street walkway over the Lake Merritt Channel.

Below the channel to the Eighth Street Pump Station is where we-Professor Mark Rauzon's Geography 1 lab class at Laney-were headed, guided by Tom Tidwell from the Alameda County Public Works Agency.

We were there to get a tour of Alameda County's only tidal pump station that lies below East Eighth St. and to observe exactly how the station, along with several other pump stations around the lake, prevents Lake Merritt from flooding. In two groups of six, we ventured below the street to see where the real action happens.

That's what Rauzon and his students do in their labs every week. From observing the pump station that prevents Lake Merritt from flooding when it rains to recording water quality levels in the Lake Merritt Channel that runs through Laney's campus to managing the restoration of native wetlands along the channel, Rauzon's lab is getting first hand experience recording the effects of Measure DD on the connector between Lake Merritt and San Francisco Bay.

The Lake Merritt Channel, which runs through the Laney campus and is the only connection between the lake and the bay, has been a focus of Rauzon's Geography class for almost five semesters.

Throughout the renovations and construction around Lake Merritt, which are funded by Measure DD, the 2002 bond measure that aims to improve the Lake Merritt waterfront, Rauzon's class has been the only group studying the water quality levels of the Lake Merritt Channel.

Measure DD specifically includes improvements along the Lake Merritt Channel that runs through Laney campus. That means that the construction that began alongside the lake on East Twelfth Street is going to move even closer to campus on East Tenth Street, beginning with the removal and replacement of a culvert similar to the one which had been on Twelfth Street at the mouth of the channel into the lake with a bridge.

With the completion of the East Twelfth Street Bridge, several new projects have been undertaken. One is a new native wetlands area that has just been planted, according to Rauzon.

His class pulled the non-native Iceplant that had taken over along the channel's edge to make way for a native marsh area. What looks like only a mudflat now on the western side of the new Twelfth St Bridge was just recently planted with Pickleweed, according to Rauzon.

Over the next few months, as the vegetation takes root, visitors can expect to see even more fish and birds in the area. Student Tatianna Silver thinks it's a great idea. "It brings nature back to its original state in the city, in my opinion," she said. "Anytime we can bring back original landscape as opposed to paving over it to build condos, or apartment buildings, I'm all for it." 

Another upcoming phase of construction will have a much more direct impact on the Laney campus. A similar culvert like the one that was removed and replaced on Twelfth Street will be replaced on Tenth Street, which will mean a lot of construction on campus, and a lot fewer parking spaces on East Tenth Street.

The removal of the culverts along East Twelfth and Tenth Street allows for two cycles of high and low tides every day. According to Rauzon, "Not a drop of water gets into the bay that's not controlled."

The trash gates that run alongside East Eighth Street are proof of that control, collecting waste from the Oakland hills before it gets to the Port of Oakland and San Francisco Bay. The tour of the Eighth Street Pump Station provided a view for the students about how the cyclical nature of the tides fills and empties Lake Merritt.

According to Tidwell, the trash gates have not been cleaned this year due to budgetary restrictions, but are still working well, nonetheless. Walking along East Eighth Street, above the pump station, little metallic specks dot the water's surface. They are small fish that can easily swim between the grates of the trash gates.

Halibut also make their way up the Lake Merritt Channel from the bay. The possibility of kayakers on Lake Merritt, hoping to make their way from the lake to the bay on their boat, is a "pipe dream," according to Tidwell.

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