As outlined in my previous post, the San Francisco Bay Area is loaded with many hidden hydrology focused activities and groups working throughout the region.  This follow-up post will address the amazing depth of resources available for historical maps and other resources for mapping and exploring lost rivers and buried creeks in the bay area.

The first place to look would be the amazing Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks, which has an amazing array of creek maps covering the entire region, published by the Oakland Museum of California, many of which were also funded by the California State Water Resources Control Board and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. You can select maps or use a sort of useful Graphic Creek and Watershed Finder to select areas via map.

The site itself isn’t just a portal to information, but includes a lot of maps, historical and contemporary as well as supporting info like Creek’Zine with stories of local history, or a glossary of creek and watershed terms.   Each map page offers links to the many creeks either through text or clickable smaller basin maps, like San Francisco.

This scaling linking allows for easy drilling down to subwatersheds, for instance to Islais Creek Watershed in San Francisco. you find more info and specific clickable elements,

Clicking on the map triangles yields more info – ostensibly what is found on the full printed map, but it’s nice to have really easy access to this online, in some depth.  An example is found in the link to Glen Canyon:

The key shows the depth of information available, including the basins, man-made and natural drainage infrastructure, waterbodies, fill and other structures.The sidebar has keyed Historical Features, circa 1850 including ‘Creeks, buried or drained’, ‘Ephemeral creeks’ and areas that were filled.

Each map page also links to a number of historic or descriptive maps that outline water systems, topography or juxtapose the new and the old.  For Islais Creek, above, a 1896 USGS Topographic map shows some source materials and evolution of the area prior to filling the historical features.

The main excerpt maps are zoomed in versions of the larger printed maps, which are pretty dramatic (in their digital form).  This one showing Oakland and Berkeley areas in the East Bay.   “The printed version of this map presents both the historical and modern hydroscapes of the western drainages of Northern Alameda County.”

I can stare at these for hours even though I don’t live there, that’s how fascinating they are.  Click on the map to download a PDF, (3.0 MB)

An excerpt shows the detail (in this case around Lake Merritt) which is pretty representative of the maps.

I’m still amazed at the coverage of these maps, and although some are getting old, the overlay info should still be pretty accurate even in the boom of development and redevelopment happening in the area.  There are maps for purchase and download, along with some GIS and KMZ files for further mapmaking opportunities.  As San Francisco proper is (mysteriously?) the only version of the PDF map not downloadable, I purchased a few of the printed maps so will see how they look when they arrive in early January.

As an added bonus, I really liked this animated map showing San Francisco in 1869 and 2007. (will launch in new tab for a bigger version).  This shows a simple evolution of the entire city, rotating through 150 years of change.  A dramatic difference, I’d say.

An additional find was the Guide to East Bay Creeks, a brief series of essays by Sarah Pollock, Shelby Hall & Christopher Richard.  Now only available online, which includes narratives for the specific hydrological and ecology – sort of a regionally specific creeks 101.  From the intro:

“Throughout the East Bay city dwellers are recognizing that even in urban areas we have wildlands valuable to humans and other animals. These people are learning ecological relationships through direct experience, and they are hoping that ultimately there may be an attitude shift, a cultural recognition that even city dwellers are an integral part of a living system.”

The previously mentioned San Francisco Estuary Institute, which was responsible for some of the maps available above at the Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks, and is a wealth of information on their site, both in terms of research reports but also GIS information. In their Data Center, you can search for tools, services, visualizations and other resources applicable to resilience and historical ecology among other topics.  Their work extends throughout the region, but has many overlaps in the Bay Area, including the GIS data for the Alameda Creek Historical Ecology study mentioned in the previous post, and rich data sets such as The San Francisco Bay Shore Inventory: Mapping for Sea Level Rise dataset provides a comprehensive and consistent picture of today’s Bay shore (up to MHHW + 10ft) for all nine Bay Area counties.  These data are available in ESRI ArcGIS file geodatabase and Google Earth KMZ format.”

Building on the last study, the SFEI folks also had a link to an awesome Historical Ecology resource, the online viewer for U.S. Coast Survey Maps of SF Bay, which provides maps of shoreline “Under the direction of some of the leading American scientists of the 19th-century, the USCS created exceptionally accurate and detailed maps of the country’s coastline. In the San Francisco Bay Area, these surveys (commonly referred to as “T-sheets”) are the most important data sources for understanding the physical and ecological characteristics of the Bay’s shoreline prior to Euro-American modification.”

The interface could use an update, but with a bit of digging the T-Sheets are available for download and are rotated and georeferenced, and includes raster and vector files. The image above I rotated and cropped – and you see that, aside from utility, these are some of the most beautiful maps.  Another zoomed excerpt.

I’ve dug into the T-Sheets for the Seattle area, and they are some great maps with pretty extensive coverage.  A few links provide a good tutorial, including a T-Sheet Users Guide authored by Robin Grossinger,  From their summary: “This guide discusses the historical maps of San Francisco Bay produced by the United States Coast Survey (USCS) and their application to present-day environmental efforts in the region.”

There are also Seep City maps, the project mentioned in the previous post, including print maps, atlases, and a forthcoming book available for purchase from Joel Pomerantz.  Another regional resource worth checking out is the Watching Our Watersheds – interactive mapping from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which provides a good example of online interactive water tools using Google Earth.  Check it out and download the data at the link.

I’d be remiss without touching on some of the cool historical map sources, including a few gleaned from the Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Creeks page, including this interactive map from the 1860s

San Francisco c. 1860 – click to open in new tab
Topographic map from the 1890s with original creeks in blue, marshes in green, and modern land fill in pink

More to come as I’ve barely scratched the surface on SF Bay area and have not fully looked at historical sources other than those mentioned elsewhere.  This may be due to the amount of info available rivals most cities.  Kudos to the people at working in this region for providing inspiration and great precedents for work to apply elsewhere.

And if you haven’t yet, read the first of this series – Lost Creeks of the Bay Area – Part I to learn about the groups working in hidden hydrology, art, and urban exploration.

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