Ballona’s historical ecology – and new awesome map site

January 23, 2012 § 7 Comments

As many of you probably already heard, last week the Coastal Conservancy approved up to $6.5 million to complete studies and permitting for the Ballona Wetlands.  If that price tag for planning is giving you sticker shock, I have two words:  Army Corps.  Actually more than two words – you see, one alternative proposes removing and relocating the levees that currently contain Ballona Creek’s flows from spreading over the wetlands.  (You know, the way in undisturbed situations fresh water from a stream or river normally spreads over wetlands, making the land, you know, wet.)  And removing and relocating levees is sensitive business, and an involved regulatory process that has to be paid for and that can rapidly add up to a big chunk of the $6.5m.

That’s just the regulatory/cost barrier.  Some people are concerned about the potential flood risk to humans, while others are concerned about the flood risk to…the wetlands.  This has been an ongoing debate, and while it’s not the point of today’s post, I think we’ve got new information that can help us all consider the alternatives – as well as create new projects.  Back when I was watershed coordinator, I felt the conversation about the watersheds could be elevated if we had a better handle on the historical ecology of the watershed.  Agreed-upon, documented sense of what natural processes shaped the habitats of the watershed, and what had actually been here.  I drafted a proposal for this study, as well as an assessment of the watershed’s springs/water budget, both of which got funded and managed by others later.

Look at all those wetlands! (click to redirect to the Ballona Historical Ecology website).

And the historical ecology report is done, and is beautiful!  Props to the team comprised of CSUN, SCCWRP, SFEI and UCLA researchers!  This report provides insight into the diverse habitats of the Ballona Creek watershed, and demonstrates considerable evidence that lower Ballona Creek was much like a large marsh, with a considerable prism of marsh and wetland habitats from the base of the Baldwin Hills down to the ocean.  While Ballona Wetlands restoration won’t reestablish historical conditions – and any work to restore Ballona Creek or its tributaries will face significant physical constraints, the study does provide information that can help us make the best use of the land and the natural processes (hydrologic flows) that remain in the interests of reestablishing wetland and riparian habitats.   The accompanying website (photo above) they created also fulfills one of my long-standing wishes (although I’d love to have this for all LA’s watersheds) – an overlay map of streams and wetlands against today’s landscape, so you can find the lost creek near you!  Check it out, enjoy!

P.S. You’ll find many other great studies posted under Technical Reports at SCCWRP’s website.  Among them, the springs/Ballona hydrology assessment, a historical ecology study of the lower Santa Clara River & Oxnard Plain, a report on episodic channels, studies on hydromodification (channelization etc), and tendencies of southern California wetlands to seasonally open and close and on and on.  Good stuff for folks who want to better understand our waterways and watersheds.

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§ 7 Responses to Ballona’s historical ecology – and new awesome map site

  • Mike Letteriello says:

    A treasure trove of info to be poured over. When I was a kid on La Brea Ave. I used to hike the Baldwin Hills before they were developed, and I seem to remember some remnant wet spots here and there. But they’re all pretty much gone now. Too, too bad! I can imagine now the ancient runoff from those hills. Kudos, as usual.

  • Charlie says:

    Very neat, also kind of sad, historical info.

  • Jim Lamm says:

    Thanks for your helpful commentary! On behalf of Ballona Creek Renaissance, I spoke in favor of the proposed funding at the Coastal Conservancy meeting last week. However, in my brief comments I also encouraged moving forward in “a process that is open, flexible, inclusive, and responsive…” to such things as the historical ecology report and the existing restored dune habitat.

  • Jim Lamm says:

    To clarify the last phrase of my previous comment, I didn’t specifically mention the historical ecology report and the existing restored dune habitat in my comments to the board. Instead I spoke of the good existing features that I share when leading occasional wetlands tours and also of being responsive to “unfolding analyses and data”.

  • Shelley Luce says:

    Jessica, thanks for the great post about the Historical Ecology report. It’s the latest chapter in your long-time work uncovering the lost streams of Ballona, and telling their stories to people like me. It will be very important in helping us understand what came before and what we can do now. And the website it awesome! How can we get this for the rest of the LA region?

  • steve king says:

    The map has the west branch of La Brea Creek meandering along Coronado Street north and south of Beverly Blvd (90057).
    Problem with that path: the stream would be flowing up hill around 2nd Street.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      When I did initial overlays of USGS maps with contemporary street maps I noticed that some rectification was needed to get major landmarks and map points (roads, rancho boundaries etc) lined up. That does cause some distortion, and as you observed I also noticed that when I ground truthed the locations of creeks, the topography suggested it being a half-block or so away. I suspect this may also be the case with these maps – Arroyos La Brea and Sacatela are among those that I had ground truthed back in 2000-2001 with my Seeking Streams colleagues, a flow path is there, but map imperfections, our street grid, storm drain system complicate finding the exact historical one.

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