In the winter of 1906, Santa Rosa Creek was so healthy that you could catch salmon with your bare hands – but just a year later, a Fish and Game Commissioner declared “it would be impossible to find anything more filthy” than the same creek bed. As a test of the water’s toxicity, trout and other fish were placed in an underwater cage downstream from the power company. “[I]n short order the fish were killed.”

But nothing was apparently done about the problem; there was no further mention in 1907 or 1908 newspapers. Why should anyone care, really? No laws of the time were broken; Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner Lea was only a Game Warden, empowered with issuing $25 tickets to out-of-season fishermen, not shutting down factories spewing toxic waste into the waterways. And not that Santa Rosa probably cared for the health of the Creek; the town was dumping 1906 earthquake debris on the banks to narrow the waterway for the new E street bridge. Besides, who would be stupid enough to fish downstream from the factories?

(RIGHT: Industry along Santa Rosa Creek. 1: Woolen Mill 2: Fruit Cannery 3: Tannery 4: Grace Brothers Brewery 5: Lighting Company)

It’s interesting that the man from Fish and Game “invited newspapermen to go with him and take a look at the Third street bridge,” which was apparently the place to view (smell?) the worst of it. This is where West Third passes over the creek, midway between highway 101 and Dutton Ave. Nothing much to see today, but the historical importance of this spot is as great as the Carrillo adobe. This was the location of Hukabetawi, the primary village for the Pomo in the Santa Rosa region. It was also on this spot that the Spanish began to construct a Mission in 1827, but the project was abandoned after “the Indians rose up and destroyed the incipient Mission buildings,” according to the county’s first historian.

Also note: When it came to spelling “deleterious,” the Santa Rosa Republican had a dictionary, and the Press Democrat had not.

Officer of State Fish Commission Here on Official Business–Proceedings May be Brought

Deputy Fish and Game Commissioner A. F. Lea was in this city on Tuesday and Wednesday under instructions from the State board of Fish and Game Commissioners for the purpose of inspecting Santa Rosa Creek as to whether dilaterious matter was being allowed to go into the waters from the lighting works, tanneries, cannery, factories, etc., along the banks of the creek. As a result of the inspection and the report that the officer will be compelled to make there may be “something doing.”

In discussing the matter, Mr. Lea stated Wednesday afternoon that it would be impossible to find anything more filthy than the creek bottom in the rear of the cannery and from there on to the tannery beyond. He said he should be compelled to take the matter up with the commissioners. He was surprised to find conditions as they existed, he said, and that something should be done at once to remedy matters.

Mr. Lea found other sections of the creek in an unsatisfactory condition where foreign matter was being allowed to run into it. It will be remembered that sometime ago complaints were made regarding the matter now in hand. In the worst place complained of other beside Mr. Lea agree that the point he makes in calling attention to the filth is well taken. Wednesday afternoon he invited newspapermen to go with him and take a look at the Third street bridge.

– Press Democrat, November 7, 1907

The case against the Santa Rosa Lighting Company, charged with having polluted the waters of Santa Rosa creek with matters deleterious to fish life, was begun before Justice A. J. Atchinson Friday morning….

Professor Price, an expert on water, testified that his analysis showed the water submitted to him from the stream was deleterious from a chemical standpoint. He had no experience with fish.

Deputy Game Commissioner A. F. Lea exhibited jars of dead fish which he alleged were killed by the waters. He referred to placing a number of fish in a large wire screen twenty to thirty feet below the place where the deleterious water is said to have flowed into the stream and in short order the fish were killed. A trout was the first to succumb. Mr. Lea will bring some data with him from Cloverdale for the hearing next Saturday.

– Santa Rosa Republican, December 20, 1907

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *