Contra Costa County Code Section 914-14 stipulates the required setbacks for structures from unimproved earth channels and drainage easements. Most of the creeks in Moraga are within drainage or scenic easements. A geotechnical engineer should also be consulted when construction is planned near a creek channel, since the danger of creek bank slope failure is always a concern.
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You may be able to obtain easement information from the Planning Department or your preliminary title report.
Buildings cannot encroach into recorded easements on the property regardless of the setbacks from the property lines. Drainage or scenic easements along creek channels can often be 80-feet or more in width.
Plans for the work within the drainage easement are reviewed by the Town Engineer and certified that they will not increase the velocity or turbulence of the water in the creek channel and thereby increase the hazard of erosion and flooding to other property owners on the creek. Following the Town Engineer’s approval, an agreement is drafted between the applicant and the Town, which includes hold harmless provisions and insurance requirements to lessen the Town’s potential liability. The Town Attorney reviews the agreement and then the application is brought before the Town Council for their approval.
Any improvement, including a retaining wall, within a creek channel or drainage easement requires approval from the Department of Fish and Game and a Drainage Easement Encroachment Permit from the Town. The State Department of Fish and Game prefers that creeks and streams should be preserved or restored to their natural state whenever possible. Generally, only improvements to stabilize a creek bank or repair a landslide into a creek are approved. Modifications to creek channels must comply with the Goals and Policies of the Open Space and Conservation Element of General Plan.
Dumping of concrete rubble and boulders into a creek channel can actually increase the turbulence of the water and the erosion rate of the creek channel. Unauthorized "improvements" to a creek channel could expose a property owner to lawsuits from downstream neighbors who claim that the modifications to the creek have caused damage to their property. It is advisable to consult an engineer with expertise in hydraulic calculations if you want to make alterations to a creek channel. It is also advisable to consult a geotechnical engineer if work in the creek channel involves repair of a landslide.
Most creek maintenance is the responsibility of the private property owner. The Town’s creek cleaning activities are almost entirely within the street right-of-way, or in certain stream beds known as Monday through ditches. Property owners are encouraged to check creek beds and sides for overgrown weeds, trees, or brush which will impede the flow of water. If you have questions regarding responsibility of maintenance or to report creek dumping please call the Town Public Services office at 925-888-7026.