Orange County Branch Newsletter

December 2020

ASCE OC Sustainability Committee

Exploring Santiago Creek on Wheels!

By Sam Ali, PE, LEED AP, ENV SP | Co-Chair Sustainability Committee

To promote active transportation and healthy activities, the Sustainability Committee for ASCE-OC organized a bike ride activity on November 14th along the Santiago Creek Trail in Orange. One of the goals of the committee is to educate the engineering community about the many unique bikeway trails (Class I) in Orange County. The bike ride led by Nathan Forrest, Technical Director of California Nevada Cement Association, was approximately 9 miles; a round trip between Main Street and the Santiago Creek Recharge Basin. Before commencing the bike ride, Sam Ali, Co-Chair of the Sustainability Committee gave a short presentation (with a map) to the bike ride participants about Santiago Creek; its watershed area, alignment, reservoirs along the creek, etc.

The Santiago Creek which is 34 miles long, drains mostly from the Santa Ana Mountains and outlets into the Santa Ana River at Riverview Golf Course. While the upper portion of the creek is natural, the lower portion is mostly improved by OCFCD with the trail running along the improved creek, except for a missing portion just east of the Santa Ana River.  The size of the watershed for the creek is 100 mile sq. and the highest point in the Saddleback Mountain is Santiago Peak at 5,687 feet. Santiago Dam (Irvine Lake) was constructed in 1920 to balance the seasonal flood during the winter and the trickle in the summer and to provide irrigation water for farms at the current location of the cities of Orange, Anaheim and Villa Park.

The Villa Park Dam was constructed downstream of Irvine Lake in 1963 to reduce flooding of the cities downstream. In February 1969 both Irvine Lake and Villa Park reservoirs were filled with a historical flow of 4,500 CFS exceeding the 100 year runoff of 3,500 cfs. The historical flood caused significant damage to roads, bridges and private properties. In 1991 the OC Water District sold bonds and worked with US Corps of Engineers to construct the Santiago Creek Recharge Basin in a disused  gravel and sand pit. The basin consists of three adjacent reservoirs, Smith, Blue Diamond and Bond. The basin includes a floating pump station and a pipe that connects the basin to the Santa Ana River.

Two interesting historical attributes:

  • The basin of Santiago Creek was populated by the native tribes of Acjachmen and Tongva for 12,000 years before the Spanish arrived in 1769.
  • Modjeska Canyon, one of the tributaries to Santiago Creek was named after the Polish Actress Helena Modjeska who came to the area in 1883 to buy large piece of land and to build her famous Modjeska House.


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