Sunday, May 25, 2014

is going back 4000 years ago a restoration?

What is the Correct Definition of a Wetland Restoration?

This website might help:

the federal EPA's website features this definition of "restoration" as stated by the National Research Council (NRC). In its 1992 report, Restoration of Aquatic Ecosystems, NRC defined restoration as the "return of an ecosystem to a close approximation of its condition prior to disturbance."
Definitions & Distinctions | Restoration | US EPA

The question is what year do you return to? 200 years ago or 4000 years ago?

I agree in part with Ruth Lansford (founder of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands) that some things cannot be changed, such as there will always be roads cutting through the area; there will most likely always be polluted water in Ballona Creek; there are older low-lying neighborhoods in Playa del Rey that we need to avoid flooding, just as there are new condos at Playa Vista that are served by roads that could be flooded by future sea level rise. So in the state's plan for flooding the wetlands full-time comes secondary impacts that may affect all of us in the pocketbook.

That is part of the controversy in the proposals for restoring the Ballona Wetlands. The basic engineering in the State's "preferred" plan mimics not the conditions of "prior to disturbance", which logically is about 200 years ago when the wetlands were a low lying river delta region which had only a limited connection to the ocean except in winter, when floods would break through the sand bar. Instead it mimics a full time always-connected to the ocean bay-like area which last occurred here 4000 years ago. To do this is estimated to cost $100 million.

To see maps of the difference between 200 and 4000 years ago, see this link:


These differences are described in the State's existing conditions report, which is posted here:

The difference between these two is that 200 years ago, we had three natural habitat types: saltwater, freshwater and upland wildflower areas, and that 4000 years ago, the area was mostly ocean water, like is proposed to be the dominant feature in the State's proposal. As the site will now be mostly wet, most of the long-used walking paths will be eliminated except for a trail around the perimeter.

Some have said that the state's plan seeks to replace the lagoons at Ballona which were open to the ocean all year-round that were lost to development. 
For a map showing this:

I would agree that some of the western lagoon areas that are still present in the Ballona region (Ballona Lagoon, the Grand Canal, Del Rey Lagoon) were usually open to the sea year round, at least based on the historical USGS maps. These are owned by the City of Los Angeles. Additional lagoons shown on this map are now part of the Marina Del Rey harbor, which, contrary to popular belief, actually has fish and seals and other creatures. So it also functions as a wetland habitat. However, most of the state-owned lands at the Ballona Wetlands were not lagoons 200 years ago as mother nature had filled them in. Thus the state's proposal to turn them into lagoons is not historically accurate.

As page 17 of the 8/18/2006 Ballona Existing conditions report says:
"2,000 to 200 years ago - Fluvial sediments continued to fill the lagoon. Deposited sediments resulted in coastal plain accretion in a southwesterly direction and saltmarsh expansion west towards the inlet. Altschul et al. (2005) inferred that a double barrier at the inlet formed about 1,000 years ago as a result of the sediment-rich environment and that extensive mudflats also formed within the lagoon. By 200 years ago, sediment accumulation almost entirely eliminated the lagoon and formed a complex of salt and freshwater marshes, ephemeral freshwater pools and sandy islands behind the barrier. At this stage the marshes extended south to El Segundo Sand Dunes and Del Rey Bluffs, north beyond Ballona Lagoon and Venice Canals and east as far as the confluence of the Ballona and Centinela Creeks."

In order to create the state proposal, 20 feet or more of dirt must be scooped out of 100's of acres of the marsh, and it would be dumped on the south side along Jefferson and Culver Blvds. rising 10 to 15 feet above these roads. These might be very conveniently beneficial to Playa Vista's condos as Jefferson and Culver are in a tsunami zone and tall (and un-natural) earthen walls would prevent flooding there. But should our state-owned wetlands be filled in so as to prevent flooding their condos which they built in a flood plain when they must have known that climate change, or whatever you call it, was causing the threat of sea level rise?

The dirt would also be dumped in the location preferred by the Annenberg Foundation for their supermarket-sized nature center complex near the 90 freeway, giving them an unnatural hill that will undoubtedly give them an ocean-view site where there is not one now.

The state plan also features removal of the levees along Ballona Creek, which while they are not-natural, this would allow the heavily polluted water in the creek to pour into the protected wetlands, leading to a different and worse non-natural result. The cost of cleaning up the water in Ballona Creek is estimated at $3 billion, and that is not mentioned in the $100 million cost estimates of a restoration plan that removes the Ballona Creek levees. This is a good reason to not remove the levees.

So ultimately, the state's plan features an unnatural deep ocean bay filled with urban polluted street drainage and two areas of unnatural hills. I am sure that engineering firms would love this plan but it is not historically accurate. So it's hard to call it a restoration. This is why I support keeping the levees, and restoring the wetlands to a marshy delta concept that is first, more like what the area looked like "prior to disturbance" when development of this area began and second, it requires less land alteration and habitat destruction with bulldozers and will thus cost much less. Finally, it preserves more of our trails and existing wildlife biodiversity.

To see an artist's rendering of a marshy delta restoration:

...Rex Frankel

Friday, May 9, 2014

Destroy our Ballona Wetlands in order to save them?

Do the Ballona Wetlands Need a Big Fix?

Frequently we read letters in the local press from the new directors of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands who say the wetlands need major bulldozing by the owners, the State department of fish and wildlife, to fix them, or they'll "die". Source:   

12/12/2013: "Continuing to drag out the environmental review process only allows the Wetlands to further degrade (threatening species) and makes it more expensive to restore. Second, we are fighting “Tea Party” type groups that don’t want the government to do anything and consequently would effectively let the Wetlands die."


In 1981: "We, (and this includes the biologists who run our monthly walks) pointed out how rich and varied the wetlands are in their present state, that they are NOT severely degraded....and that even if not one cent were spent on them, they would continue to serve as an irreplaceable resource, both for wildlife and for people." Ruth Lansford, chair of the Friends of Ballona Wetlands, June 1981, Letter to the L.A Times

It certainly sounds like the Friends didn't buy the claims of advocates of restoration by bulldozing. In the 1980's, the Friends were the sole environmental group standing up to protect the wetlands. In 1989, the Friends made a deal with the landowner, Playa Vista, to save more of the land. Unfortunately, the deal required them to repudiate others who disagreed with the deal. 

"In 1994, MTP demanded more. Friends of Ballona Wetlands were asked to sign a supplement to their 1990 settlement agreement. Under the new terms, MTP can require the Friends to appear before a public agency and disavow any statement (made by a group that has at least one current or former member of the Friends) that "criticizes the Wetlands Restoration Plan or states that the Revised Playa Vista Plan will have an adverse impact on the restoration of the Ballona Wetlands." After the Friends denounce the criticism, the supplement requires the group to say that its position is unequivocally to the contrary."from the L.A. Weekly 11/24/1995

In 2003, our state's taxpayers handed over $140 million to Playa Vista to double the size of the preserve saved by the Friends in 1989. Did the Friends retire, happy to save the wetlands that did not really need to be restored? No.

Fast forward to 2014: the organization's board of directors and managers are almost entirely new, with several being current or former top employees of Playa Vista. Others work for wetland restoration engineering firms.

So now, it is intriguing to compare the Friends' revised views on the health of the wetlands:

"we know, based on detailed surveys and the professional judgments of many of our members, that the Wetlands have been severely degraded"

The Friends are very proud of their partnership with the project managers at the State bureaucracy. The State's restoration newsletters feature a prominent plug for the Friends. And on the Ballona Wetlands restoration website created by the State's project managers are several large photos of trash and homeless camps, which creates an impression that the wetlands are a mess in need of this major bulldozing job. Source:

This website is jointly run by the State and the Annenberg Foundation, according to the State's newsletter titled Baywire (April 2014 edition)

And while the Friends support the Annenberg Foundation's proposed supermarket-sized nature center and pet adoption facility on top of the reworked Ballona Wetlands, they have said this previously: "Feral cats, or free-roaming pets, hunt and kill birds such as the endangered Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, and the South Coast Marsh Vole. Allowing access of these animals and pets into a protected Ecological Reserve is both harmful and illegal."

It is our opinion that the definition of "restoration" used by the advocates of major bulldozing is so flexible that it is junk science, all attempting to justify a project that is the most expensive for the taxpayers, and the most profitable for engineering firms. Given that we have shown already that the State's proposal is not historically accurate (, and unnecessary, and ecologically unsound, we hope that those who claim the wetlands are "dead" give it a rest.