STOCKTON – For as long as most anyone can remember, a large island in the Calaveras River just east of the University of the Pacific footbridge has been held hostage by a bamboo-like “weed from hell.”

This week, for the first time in half a century, you can see through the island to the far side.

University students are attacking invasive Arundo donax, hacking it to shreds and removing its stalks as part of a long-term river restoration plan from Pershing to Pacific avenues.

Sprucing up this segment of stream, although only about a half-mile in length, could be a model for river rehabilitation projects elsewhere, said Greg Anderson, an assistant professor of biology who has coordinated much of the dirty work.

And it would create a living laboratory for Pacific students – a place for would-be biologists to study bugs and all things moving or growing.

“This river could be a resource. It could be a gem,” Anderson told local Sierra Club members this week in Stockton.

The long-term vision includes building wetland habitat, establishing native plant gardens strung together by a gravel footpath, and, on that famously choked island, planting native elderberry bushes in which an endangered beetle might find sanctuary.

“It would be great to have a nice stretch of river so people can see its potential,” said the Sierra Club’s Nan Ballot, who frequently walks the Calaveras levees. “You may not be able to restore it to its original form, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as it is.”

The question is who will pay to make it better. A $30,400 award from The Rose Foundation in Oakland will pay for Arundo annihilation, but more money will be needed to complete other portions of the project, said Margit Aramburu, director of the university’s Natural Resources Institute.

“I know the university has a continuing interest in doing work in the channel and enhancing it,” Aramburu said.

First, how to keep that scourge Arundo from returning? The plant grows like a teenager, it sucks up huge amounts of water, and it won’t die, even from fire.

“If you burn it, it grows faster. It likes it,” Anderson said.

Students are experimenting with non-mechanical ways to kill Arundo, including cutting the stalks and leaving them there to compost, a process that actually hinders new sprouts.

The Calaveras will never be what it once was. If it was unleashed, Stockton would flood; your drinking water supply would be cut.

But the Calaveras can be more than it is, Anderson says.

“My argument is it doesn’t have to be a flood channel that has no other purpose,” he said.


Read this story on the Stockton Record website: