River enthusiast launches group to put face on waterway

By Alex Breitler
January 01, 2009
Record Staff Writer

Jeremy Terhune knows how most people look at the Calaveras River.

They don’t.

He was once the same way.

“(The Calaveras) was entirely inconsequential to me,” said the 30-year-old Terhune, who grew up in Stockton. “I didn’t see it. I didn’t live directly near the river, but I drove over it all the time.

“People don’t see it as the Calaveras River. They see it as an irrigation ditch.”

Terhune heads a new citizens group that dreams of putting a public face on the stream and nourishing the fish and wildlife that call the Calaveras home.

Other cities have celebrated their rivers, Terhune says; why not Stockton?

The group, Friends of the Lower Calaveras River, is funded by a two-year grant from Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental advocacy group. But Terhune isn’t aiming for “greenies.”

“I really want this to be an everyday person’s group,” he said.

Members of the Army Corps of Engineers have attended meetings. So has the Stockton East Water District, which diverts water from the Calaveras River for farms and cities.

The goal, before funding runs out, is to have a self-sustaining group, Terhune said.

That might be the toughest part. Citizen groups on other Stockton waterways have sometimes fizzled.

The lower Calaveras has always had its secret admirers, but never can photographer Michael Randolph recall them being so organized.

“We’ve always known about the river and been concerned about it,” said Randolph, who grew up in Linden in the 1960s. He remembers rafting down the Calaveras “like Huckleberry Finn.”

Raising the river’s profile is one thing, but actions are also under way to physically improve conditions for fish.

Stockton East is working with federal agencies to remove barriers preventing salmon or steelhead from spawning upstream.

Also, the district may be close to releasing for public comment a long-awaited habitat plan that would call for steady flows from New Hogan Dam to Bellota Weir and pulse flows below the weir to help fish on their journeys.

Currently, no water flows from the upstream reservoir are required to help the environment, district General Manager Kevin Kauffman said.

Finally, University of the Pacific continues to restore the portion of the river that runs through the Stockton campus, in part by tearing out non-native plants. And citizens such as Randolph participate in trash cleanups.

Now, if people will only take notice.

Terhune said he has about 90 people on his Friends of the Lower Calaveras roster. Given other problems in the community – the economy, foreclosures, violence – he said he’s “ecstatic” to see so much interest in the environment.

“I really think there is a great opportunity to just get the darned river on the map,” Terhune said. “If we can get a conservation started, then we’ve already been successful.”

Contact reporter Alex Breitler at (209) 546-8295 or abreitler@recordnet.com.