San Tomas Aquino Creek

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San Tomas Aquinas Creek
Arroyo de San Tomás Aquinas, San Tomas Aquino Creek
San Tomas Aquino Creek near Levi's Stadium.JPG
San Tomas Aquino Creek in Santa Clara
CountryUnited States
RegionSanta Clara County
CitiesSaratoga, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, Campbell, Santa Clara, San Jose
Physical characteristics
SourceEl Sereno Summit in the Santa Cruz Mountains[1]
 ⁃ locationSaratoga, California
 ⁃ coordinates37°13′04″N 122°01′32″W / 37.21778°N 122.02556°W / 37.21778; -122.02556[2]
 ⁃ elevation2,400 ft (730 m)
MouthGuadalupe Slough in South San Francisco Bay
 ⁃ location
Sunnyvale, California
 ⁃ coordinates
37°23′20″N 121°58′07″W / 37.38889°N 121.96861°W / 37.38889; -121.96861Coordinates: 37°23′20″N 121°58′07″W / 37.38889°N 121.96861°W / 37.38889; -121.96861[2]
 ⁃ elevation
13 ft (4.0 m)[2]
Basin features
 ⁃ leftWildcat Creek (California), Saratoga Creek
 ⁃ rightMistletoe Creek, Smith Creek (Santa Clara County, California)

San Tomas Aquinas Creek, known locally as San Tomas Aquino Creek, is a 16.5-mile-long (26.6 km) stream[3] that heads on El Sereno mountain in El Sereno Open Space Preserve in Saratoga, California in Santa Clara County, California, United States. It flows north through the cities of Saratoga, Monte Sereno, Los Gatos, Campbell, Santa Clara and San Jose before its confluence with the Guadalupe Slough in south San Francisco Bay.

Roger Castillo, a founder of the Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Group, with a giant Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), now a taxidermy wall mount specimen, that he recovered from San Tomas Aquino Creek below Highway 237 in mid-October, 1996.


In the 1850s the creek appeared on several land grant maps as San Tomas Aquinas Creek and Arroyo de San Tomás Aquinas.[4][5] Historically, San Tomas Aquino Creek formed the eastern boundary of the 1841 Rancho Quito and the western boundary of the 1840 Rancho Rinconada de Los Gatos land grants.[6]

Watershed and Course[edit]

The San Tomas Aquinas Creek watershed drains 44.8 square miles.[7] The major tributaries of San Tomas Aquino Creek include (heading downstream) Mistletoe, Wildcat (and its Vasona sub-tributary), Smith and Saratoga Creeks.[8] Smith Creek is a headwaters tributary of San Tomas Aquinas Creek,[9] but is largely dry except during the winter months. It begins in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains within the city of Monte Sereno, then flows northerly through portions of Los Gatos and Campbell until its confluence with San Tomas Aquino Creek.[10][11] Saratoga Creek is the largest tributary and joins San Tomas Aquino Creek south of Highway 101, near Monroe Street. Due to its relatively large size, the Saratoga Creek subwatershed is often viewed as a distinct watershed even though it does not directly discharge to the Lower South San Francisco Bay. In fact, San Tomas Aquino Creek historically used to be a tributary of Saratoga Creek and thence to the Guadalupe River, but when the latter was redirected from Guadalupe Slough to Alviso Slough to facilitate navigation, San Tomas Aquino Creek was extended directly to Guadalupe Slough at Sunnyvale Baylands Park in Sunnyvale and Saratoga Creek became tributary to San Tomas Aquino Creek.[12][13]

Vasona Creek is a short creek that runs through West Valley College and joins Wildcat Creek just before the latter reaches San Tomas Aquino Creek.[14] With $570,000 in grants from the Santa Clara Valley Water District, the one mile section of Vasona Creek running through the college campus has undergone restoration since 2011, repairing deep channel incision and restoring riparian vegetation.[15]

The middle portion of the creek runs under or alongside San Tomas Expressway. At Cabrillo avenue it starts running under the median of the expressway until Williams Road. Some portions are partially exposed, but much is completely underground. From Williams road it runs along the west side of the expressway until Bucknall road. From there it leaves the expressway and enters the hills.

The San Tomas Aquino bicycle and pedestrian trail follows the creek from the bay to El Camino Real, and will soon be extended to Homestead.[16]

Habitat and wildlife[edit]

In 1898 John Otterbein Snyder collected steelhead trout (then Salmo irideus Gibbons) specimens in Campbell Creek (now Saratoga Creek, a tributary of San Tomas Aquino Creek).[17] A 1985 California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) survey of Saratoga Creek noted "a major steelhead and king salmon spawning area" on San Tomas Aquino Creek located approximately 200 yards downstream of the Saratoga and San Tomas Aquino creeks confluence. Stream resident coastal rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus) persist in the Saratoga Creek watershed but anadromous steelhead cannot run up from the Bay because of a barrier at the confluence of San Tomas Aquino Creek and Saratoga Creek that prevents their passage upstream.[18] Recent genetic analysis has shown that the San Tomas Aquino watershed trout are of native origin and not hatchery stock.[19]

Leidy (2007) identified the native fishes in San Tomas Aquino Creek as Hitch (Lavinia exilicauda), California roach (Lavinia symmetricus), Sacramento sucker (Catostomus occidentalis occidentalis), Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus), rainbow trout (Oncohrynchus mykiss irideus) and possibly Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Although the latter had been considered now absent from the watershed, in mid-October, 1996, Roger Castillo, the founder of the Salmon and Steelhead Restoration Group, recovered a giant Chinook salmon from San Tomas Aquino Creek beneath Highway 237 (see photo). Non-native fishes include Common carp (Cyprinus carpio), Goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus), Golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas), and Western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis).[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "El Sereno Summit". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  2. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: San Tomas Aquinas Creek
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed August 25, 2011
  4. ^ Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Word Dancer Press. p. 699. ISBN 1-884995-14-4.
  5. ^ Erwin Gustav Gudde (1974). California Place Names. University of California Press. p. 350. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  6. ^ Mildred Brooke Hoover; Douglas E. Kyle (2002). Historic spots in California. Stanford University Press. p. 661. ISBN 978-0-8047-4482-9. Retrieved 2011-08-29.
  7. ^ "San Tomas Aquino Watershed". Santa Clara Valley Urban Runoff Pollution Prevention Program (SCVURPPP). Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  8. ^ "Middle Guadalupe Slough Watershed Map". Oakland Museum. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  9. ^ Leidy, Becker and Harvey, Historical Distribution of Rainbow Trout in streams of the San Francisco Bay Area
  10. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. Los Gatos Quadrangle [map]. 1:24,000. 7.5 Minute Series. Washington, D.C.
  11. ^ U.S. Geological Survey. San Jose West Quadrangle [map]. 1:24,000. 7.5 Minute Series. Washington, D.C.
  12. ^ "Lower Guadalupe Slough Watershed Map". Oakland Museum. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  13. ^ Historical Atlas of Santa Clara County California. San Francisco, California: Thompson & West. 1876.
  14. ^ "Vasona Creek". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey.
  15. ^ Sheila Sanchez (2011-10-23). "West Valley College Begins Vasona Creek Restoration". Los Gatos Patch. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
  16. ^
  17. ^ John Otterbein Snyder, United States Bureau of Fisheries (1905). Notes on the fishes of the streams flowing into San Francisco Bay, California in Report of the Commissioner of Fisheries to the Secretary of Commerce and Labor for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1904. 30. General Printing Office. p. 337. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  18. ^ Robert A. Leidy; Gordon Becker; Brett N. Harvey (2005). Historical Distribution and Current Status of Steelhead/Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in Streams of the San Francisco Estuary, California (PDF) (Report). Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration. pp. 117–118. Retrieved 2011-08-25.
  19. ^ John Carlos Garza, Devon Pearse (2008). Population genetics of Oncorhynchus mykiss in the Santa Clara Valley Region, Final Report to the Santa Clara Valley Water District (Report). Santa Clara Valley Water District. pp. 1–54.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  20. ^ Robert A. Leidy (2007). Ecology, Assemblage Structure, Distribution, and Status of Fishes in Streams Tributary to the San Francisco Estuary, California (Report). San Francisco Estuary Institute. p. 178. Retrieved 2011-08-24.

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