Help keep our Arboretum and Public Garden spaces open

Waterway Wow! Campaign April 21 - May 4

Image of a before and after image of the Arboretum Waterway.


After years of input, planning and evaluation, the Arboretum Waterway is on its way to becoming a place that reflects the environmental expertise of UC Davis as well as a resource for student and community engagement. LEARN MORE.

What will the campaign fund?

Once contractors complete the phase one renovation area, we will need funding to plant the waterway’s banks in the current construction zone as well as launch a pilot internship program where students will gain experience managing and enhancing this complex system.

To do this we need to raise $50,000 during the Waterway WOW! Campaign. This campaign launches during the UC Davis Give Day then concludes on May 4 during the Big Day of Giving.

Watch for news about contests, giving opportunities and other ways to participate throughout the campaign.

Your gifts during this timeframe will help make our community’s vision for the waterway a reality! 

Waterway Trivia

  • Is the Arboretum Waterway part of the Putah Creek?
  • The Arboretum Waterway used to be part of the north fork of Putah Creek. In the 1870s, soon after the railroad arrived in Davis, local residents used horse-drawn scrapers to divert PutahCreek south of Davis to prevent periodic flooding in heavy winter flows. In 1939, a major flood caused considerable damage to the early UC Davis campus. Later, in 1948, The Army Corps of Engineers permanently sealed off the north fork of Putah Creek to prevent future flooding. Now, the waterway is connected to Putah Creek by pumps that send stormwater from the waterway to the South Fork of Putah Creek (south of campus). Both ends of the Arboretum Waterway are dammed. 
  • Where does the water come from? 
  • The Arboretum Waterway constantly fills with recycled water from campus throughout the year, and with storm water when it rains. 
  • What direction does the channel flow? 
  • The original channel flowed from west to east.  Now, although mostly stagnant, the water moves from east to west as the result of slight elevation changes.
  • Is it possible to reconnect the Arboretum Waterway to Putah Creek? 
  • No. The waterway is higher in elevation than the live channel, and is now separated from its original path by Highway 113, I-80, and the El Macero community. 
  • What makes the water green? 
  • Duckweed is an aquatic plant that floats just beneath the surface of the waterway. It cleans nitrogen from the water, and keeps it cool.  While too much duckweed can create low oxygen levels in a closed pond, our infusion of recycled water keeps the oxygen levels from dropping too low. 
  • Why are we doing this construction project now? 
  • Approximately every 20 years, a buildup of excess sediment in the waterway needs to be removed in order to maintain its storage capacity as part of the campus flood control system. Based on the amount of sediment in the east end of the waterway, we are now at one of those times. However, in addition to addressing standard maintenance issues, we are also redesigning the waterway to function better from a stormwater collection standpoint, as well as from an ecological and aesthetic standpoint.  With funding secured, nearby pathway improvements needed, and increased visitor interest in the waterway, now is the time to get this project started.
  • Will there be any changes to Lake Spafford during phase one? 
  • No. This is the first phase of a multi-year project to complete the entire waterway, so you won’t see any changes from Lake Spafford to the west after completion of this phase. Phase one covers the eastern third of the waterway. The phases covering Spafford and the waterway to the west will occur in subsequent years.
  • What will the funds raised during Waterway WOW! support? 
  • We will use the funding raised during the campaign to plant the waterway’s banks in the current construction zone with over 6,000 plants as well as launch a pilot internship program where students will gain experience managing and enhancing this complex system.
  • Where did the fish in the Arboretum Waterway come from? 
  • With the exception of the native Sacramento blackfish (for research) and mosquitofish (for mosquito control), the fish in the waterway were not put there by representatives from UC Davis. Any goldfish, koi, carp, catfish, and bass you see in the waterway were most likely placed there by other individuals. 
  • What is a common nickname for Putah Creek?
  • The build up of algae in summer months has led many people to dub Putah Creek the “green river.” John Fogerty, the lead singer and songwriter for the band Creedence Clearwater Revival, often vacationed at Putah Creek as a child. The band’s 1969 single “Green River” is named for Putah Creek. 

    The Arboretum Waterway, used to be part of Putah Creek, now they are only connected through a series of pumps and pipes (see question above, “Is the Arboretum Waterway part of Putah Creek,” for more historical information). The campus does encompass part of Putah Creek however, just not in the Arboretum. You can see and experience Putah Creek when you visit Putah Creek Riparian Reserve.
  • What benefits do larger tress and shrubs along the Arboretum Waterway provide? 
  • Mature trees and shrubs on the banks keep the water cooler by creating shade and limiting the effects of sunlight. In addition, Willow type shrubs are fast growing and provide overhanging cover and habitat for fish, amphibians and reptiles. The Willow type shrubs are also an important food source for birds. We are raising funds during the Waterway WOW! campaign to revegetate the banks in the current area of construction. 
  • What body of water inspired our design for the reimagined waterway? 
  • The inspiration for the design of the waterway is Putah Creek, which you can still find as part of the campus’s Putah Creek Riparian Reserve located on south campus. Like Putah Creek, there will be vegetation along the waterway, as well as in the water, including some naturally-occurring duckweed and algae, albeit much smaller amounts than we’ve seen in the recent past.
  • Where did the otters in the Arboretum Waterway come from? 
  • The river otters likely found their way to the waterway by following the old channel where Putah Creek used to flow on west campus.  Once they got to the Arboretum, they found ample food in the crayfish that live in the waterway, and have made it their home. 
  • Why is it important for the water to stay cool? 
  • The waterway’s cool temperature supports a diverse and abundant number of species in the water, which then supports larger predators such as birds and mammals. 
  • What kind of wildlife live in or around the Arboretum Waterway?
  • There are hundreds of wildlife species in and along the Arboretum Waterway, including:

    • Red crayfish (Procambarus clarki)*

    • Pipevine swallowtail butterflies (Battus philenor)

    • Eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger)*

    • Western tiger swallowtail butterflies (Papilio rutulus)

    • Painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui)

    • Sacramento blackfish (Orthodon microlepidotus)

    • Green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus)

    • Bullfrogs (Rana catesbeiana)

    • Red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans)*

    • Western pond turtles (Emys marmorata)

    • Western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis)

    • Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana)

    • California ground squirrel (Spermophilus beecheyi)

    • Great egret (Ardea alba)

    • Green heron (Butorides virescens)

    *Not native to this area

For a complete list, please download the Arboretum Wildlife Management and Enhancement Plan.