Restoring Malibu Lagoon

September 26, 2010 § 43 Comments


Malibu Lagoon, 2008. Image: Google Earth, 2010.


Back when I was involved in native planting projects and miniparks along the rights-of-way of flood control channels, I sometimes worried that people would get too attached to those things – to the extent that they’d not support restoration of the channels if it meant losing their minipark (any restoration would require us to widen the channel within the right-of-way). Would people object to bulldozing a created upland habitat to re-establish riparian habitat? That may seem like an overblown fear, but I see that reflected from time to time in environmental debates. There are good reasons for keeping some things the way they are, but sometimes there are also important reasons to make changes. The currrent reflection of that for me is at the Malibu Lagoon.

Disclosure: I’m not involved and haven’t been involved in the design or any decisions on the lagoon, but I am preparing a drawing of it for the project proponents. And between getting informed on the design and seeing some of the opposition rising, I decided to post my understanding of the issue – no one asked me to do this. Thanks to Mark Abramson for taking the time to describe some of the project history and the proposal.

The lagoon as we know it was created in 1983. It was a vast improvement over the ballfields – and the dump (from the 1930s-60s) – that had previously replaced the natural coastal wetland there. Malibu Creek drains to the lagoon – you can see a wide open area where these flows come in in the photo above. And to the left are tidal channels, looking like curly little fingers. These were created by a bulldozer, cut fairly steeply by its bucket, which limits the diversity of habitats along a salt marshes’ tidal prism. So creating shallower slopes would increase the diversity of habitat. Also, optimal tidal flushing is limited by the circulation of the channels and perhaps more significantly, by the boardwalk that bisects them. Encroaching mounded soil and boardwalk piers constrain the ability of water and sediment to move through. Over the years, fine sediments have accumulated (natural occurrence at a wetland) but have not been able to flush out.

Speaking of flushing, as we all know from the news, lots of folks in Malibu flush their toilets into leaky or ill-placed septic systems, resulting in high bacteria counts at Surfrider Beach. It and other discharges into Malibu Creek also contribute to high nutrient levels. Excess nutrients (fertilizers, poop etc) wreak havoc on a system. (This week’s LA Times pieces on sea otters and Calabasas septics dramas provide insight into the range of havoc that ignoring its effects can wreak-biological and political/personal.) If you’ve owned fish and never changed the water and didn’t have an aerator, you’ve seen the issue in a microcosm: nutrients cause an explosion in growth of plant life, which then dies and decomposes – consuming the water’s oxygen in the process – and little Charlie and BigMama are suddenly floating upside down. It’s not pretty when it’s in your tank, and it’s worse when it’s a river, lake or wetland. Mark Abramson said he’s been called by residents five or six times over significant fish die-offs in the Malibu Lagoon over the years.

Which brings us back to these fine-sediment choked, non-flushing tidal channels. With the high nutrient levels coming in from Malibu Creek and adjacent septic systems, the nutrients are binding to the wetland sediments, stored as reserves – and not flushing out (long term thought – and what happens when it flushes to the sea – which is why we really need to rein in the fertilizers and figure out better ways to deal with waste). Instead, the nutrients periodically get re-released into the water column, bringing us back to fish kills and diminished wetland habitat. So to me it makes sense to redesign this area to restore natural levels of flushing (the seasonal quality of the lagoon’s breaching of the sand berm remains). It can’t be a cure-all for the wastewater problem, but it restores natural function within its boundaries, which will help the overall health of the lagoon.

To do this, the restoration project creates better tidal circulation with new channels that have shallower slopes. It also removes the constricting boardwalk, relocating it to the outer edge of the wetland. This not only frees up tidal flushing, it also creates a deeper interior for habitat – you may have noticed, wildlife don’t always like us in the middle of their business. For some reason, we often seem predatory and threatening. So moving us to the outer edge gives them more room to feel secure. But we will still get to watch them from behind bird blinds and overlooks.

Finally, the parking lot in the restoration plan is moved closer to PCH – already built – and detaining and treating stormwater runoff. Moving it adds 2 acres of habitat to the wetland.

Mark tells me there will be a biologist on site throughout the project, no poisons will be used, and hand-digging will be done in areas expected to be culturally sensitive.

Such work impacts habitat temporarily – and after 27 years of establishment, it may seem unwise and callous to disrupt it. But the boardwalk and contaminated sediments are a permanent disruption that diminishes habitat quality that the lagoon will not recover from without action. These restoration decisions improve the natural function of the wetland and should benefit fish, bivalves (clams, mussels) and benthic invertebrates – all of which should benefit the already plentiful birds there even more. I’m excited about it, and see this as the next step, as we understand and refine our knowledge of wetland and fluvial systems, we get better and better at restoration. Getting rid of constrictions is one of the most important things we can do to let natural systems repair themselves – creating new tidal channels based on the geometries of channels in healthier wetlands gives the lagoon a boost in its recovery process.

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§ 43 Responses to Restoring Malibu Lagoon

  • There are so many errors of fact and ecology in this summary. I hope readers will go to to understand what is really going on.

    Probably the most important point is one of understanding of nature and its processes. It is so curious that the writer of this blog talks about HUMANS getting “too attached” to native plants or anything else that we might be bringing back to their former homes. Restoration must first include PRESERVATION of the life that is inextricably linked to those plants and other species. In other words, they are not “those things” ~ plants are either cover for protection from predators, shelter or food for other species. That’s why Aldo Leopold – considered the “father” of ecological restoration – said what he did. You don’t throw away any of the parts. In fact, if anything, you DO want to get “too attached.”

  • Naturalist.charlie says:

    Question… is Malibu Lagoon really tidally influenced? My impression is that its fluxuations are caused by the lagoon bursting then closing off. I’ve never seen tides flowing IN to the lagoon, at least not on a daily basis. Certainly during times of high tide and large waves, seawater floods into there.

    Marcia, your blog comment seems rather hostile, which makes me less likely to be interested in what you have to say. Why not actually comment on the points you disagree with? That being said, I am going to visit your website anyway because I am really curious.

  • Charlie ~ you are correct, sort of. In the late spring, summer and early fall months the lagoon is closed to the sea. This is what it did naturally for many thousands of years, although it was a much larger lagoon system at one time.

    Almost all of the coastal lagoons in California did this closing off to the sea during non-winter storm months. The opening to the sea happens naturally with the first big winter storms. The life in the lagoon – which is quite diverse and abundant – has evolved with these conditions.

  • Naturalist.charlie says:

    Yeah, the lagoon is definitely ‘supposed’ to close off like that. I think some of the big ones in the basin may have not always done that, but Malibu Lagoon almost certainly was always like that. That’s why I was wondering why the report mentioned ‘tidal flow’.

    Also, Malibu Lagoon now occasionally ‘busts’ open in summer due to the excess of treated sewage and urban runoff in the creek.

    I’ve always wanted to watch the lagoon in the process of breaking into the ocean during the first big storm of the season (or a few storms in, in some cases). I’ve never seen one in the action of breaking but I did once see Zuma an hour or two after it burst (in October/November 2004, in the first of the really big storms that year)

    • Jessica Hall says:

      Hi Charlie, when the lagoon is seasonally open it is subject to tidal flow. But the flows are muted by the structures and design of the 1983 restoration. While its tidal influence is only seasonal (although you also point to other situations where breaches or tidal influence occur), it’s an important time for flushing and tidal scouring of the channels. I didn’t really address the seasonal breaching, but referenced it in an offhand way parenthetically. The design wasn’t intended to alter the seasonal breaching.

  • steve woods says:

    Before Tapia was built the Lagoon dried up in most cases by mid summer ,, You had to hike NW up the dry creek bed to find puddles of trapped Pollywogs ,, The reason There is any standing water in the Lagoon area is a result of thousands of Toliets Flushing from Urban development ! Man Caused this unatural Problem and Now needs to tweak it for the better ,, Chemo therapy kills cancer cells and some good ones as well but for a healthier Survival of the organism .. It seems the Restoration project will address a positive out come for the health of Surfers and a healthier habitat that enables wildlife to have a higher quality of life !

  • The science reports in the files do not support your contention, Mr. Woods.

  • Lucy Timonson says:

    Anybody knows where can I get the Malibu lagoon water quality data?

  • Jessica Hall says:

    Tidal flushing is seasonal, as I did mention parenthetically above. The project isn’t about altering that, but rather to make what flushing that does occur be more effective from the standpoint of reducing excessive nutrients and maintaining more natural channel geometries. A walk through Google Earth’s historic photos of the site offers some interesting views through time of the breaching and algal growth.

    I don’t have any information comparing historical and contemporary flows. Seems reasonable to speculate that groundwater over the years has dropped (as everywhere else in LA), and that discharges may be adding flows back into the system. However, Tapia’s discharge permit is for the winter months, not the summer. We also know that urban development – as little as 15% – can change runoff patterns in a watershed – with the spike in runoff being again a winter thing. While it seems logical that runoff from overwatering and seepage from septic systems would be contributing to base flows over the dry months, I don’t know of any specific study that verifies that. I’m sure people have looked at it – Creekfreaks, got reports?

    Lucy, I believe Heal the Bay keeps records of water quality at Malibu Lagoon. You may also try contacting Mark Abramson at Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission ( Las Virgenes Municipal Water District probably monitors quality in the creek, don’t know about the wetlands. The Malibu Creek Watershed Council is also a good place to go to get connected with groups involved in monitoring.

    About the use of pesticides, I have been assured that they’re not on the table from the project proponent side; however, I’m also told the Coastal Commission staff report provides guidance on permissible use of pesticides as a matter of procedure. I have not verified this with the Coastal Commission.

  • A few things…

    I find it surprising that the lagoon itself was ever dry. Zuma lagoon, at the base of a much more natural creek, has water all year. The lower creek usually dries up by late spring and even the central gorge is dry except the deep pools during most summers. However, there is always some groundwater flow… when this reaches the ocean it obviously can not continue to percolate because the oceal keeps the groundwater levels high. Thus the lagoon is there all year. Most coastal lagoons in CA act this way.

    That being said, Malibu Creek definitely had less summer flow before Tapia was built, and perhaps more importantly, before vast areas of lawn and landscaping were installed in the watershed. There was a study done using isotope analysis and I believe the results indicated that nearly all summer water had an isotope signature indicative of water that originated as snowpack. Since the Malibu Creek watershed essentially receives no snow (yes it has happened but it is in very insignificant quantities) this means that most of the water in the creek in the summer comes from the Sierras or Rockies via aqueducts and ends up in the creek. I don’t think this study has been published yet. You could contact the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, or the Heal The Bay Stream Teams, I think they know more. I recommend you visit Paramount Ranch and talk to a ranger there. They have pictures and documentation of Medea Creek being a very small seasonal waterway before the 1950s. It is now a virtual river all summer, with very nutrient rich water. The willow forests in that area didn’t exist before the 1950s! This is of course one of the main tributaries to Malibu Creek. Also, check out Las Virgines Creek both above and below the area it passes through Calabassas (or whatever that community is). The difference is dramatic.

    This all being said, we are comparing current conditions to conditions early in the century. These were not the ‘original’ conditions, and grazing and agriculture had already impacted the watersheds. It is possible that before the 1700s the watershed was more intact and the creek had more consistent summer flow (though of course the climate was different then too). I have even heard it said that there used to be beavers in that watershed that were later trapped out. If this is true it would have drastically changed how the creek worked. I haven’t been able to actually find the historical accounts of this, though… but I think it is mentioned in Ecology of Fear. There is currently a population of beavers in Deep Creek in the San Bernardino Mountains that is believed to be a native relict population though…

    Anyway… getting WAY off topic here.

  • Jessica ~ The Coastal Commission staff report details the use of poisons to remove the plant life because the project proponents wish to use such poisons. They are not pesticides, but herbicides – poisons, nonetheless.

    They are not necessary, and Coastal Commission staff reports for Ballona Lagoon and Grand Canal, for instance, prohibited the use of such poisons. The removal of nonnative plants do not require such things.

    In spite of Shelley Luce’s stated stance that the herbicide poisons will not be used, they are allowed under this permit, and the permittees intend to use them, just like the bulldozers which are also not only unnecessary, but harmful to the ecosystem, much of which is not in as depauperate of a condition as the staff report and project proponents assert.

    The “it’s degraded so we have to come in and get rid of it to make it better” line has been used by every developer I’ve ever come across. It is surprising, shocking and disheartening that state agencies are now using this line of argument to come in and wipe out an ecosystem that is supporting an amazing amount of wildlife in ecological systems that have either gone unnoticed by those proposing the project or simply ignored.

    If some habitat and species experts had been the ones spearheading a restoration at Malibu Lagoon the plan would look very different.

  • Jessica Hall says:

    Like local bird expert Kimball Garrett? Or Carpinteria Salt Marsh Reserve Director Andrew Brooks, or someone with expertise in “wetland plant ecology and sediment dynamics” like John Callaway? In addition to other local wetland and ecology experts who were on the Lagoon Task Force, perhaps not “spearheading” but whose input into the restoration plan was cited by Mark as essential.

    I’ve never heard a developer say they were going to remove man-made obstructions or disturbances to allow the natural environment to function in a more resilient way in support of greater ecosystem abundance &/or diversity – which would be my definition of better. It would be a welcome sentiment. And I don’t agree, as the editor in one of the Malibu newspapers asserted, that it is playing God to redress the impacts caused by humans.

    As to the poisons – I misspoke in saying pesticides. I too was aware that we were speaking of herbicides. I am afraid we are in a “she said-she said” situation. I believe Shelley and Mark. As a former staffer at the Commission, I sat in on staff discussions led by Shelley about moving away from the use of herbicides on other projects, and know her and Mark to be serious proponents there. I realize trust doesn’t carry the assurance of a regulatory letter, but I write from a place of trust in this regard.

  • Kimball Garrett only attended one or two meetings……Garrett, Brooks and Callaway were not the ones who put this plan together, and given that the plan has shifted so greatly even from the one that was studied in the EIR, I don’t think it is fair to blame them for what we have now. These people were NOT on the “Lagoon Task Force” – I was – and the Lagoon Task Force never agreed to this plan. They were on a technical group, but it is unclear how much input they had to the final plan.

    The plan proposed and being considered by the Coastal Commission will *not* “allow the natural environment to function in a more resilient way in support of greater ecosystem abundance &/or diversity.” There is no evidence of this, and, in fact, there is evidence that the lagoon is filled with healthy natural ecosystem functions now. The people proposing the plan apparently do not understand the sort of ecosystem that Malibu Lagoon is.

  • oh — and as for the herbicides/poisons, either the agent for this permit, Mark Abramson, or the applicant, provided information to the Coastal Commission that these poisons WOULD be used. If they don’t want to use them, then their information to the Coastal Commission staff must be changed, like the City did for Ballona Lagoon. Trust, but verify.

  • “SPEARHEADING” is the operative word. When engineers spearhead a project, you have a different outcome than if the project is spearheaded by an ecologist. Or a landscape architect. Or a planner. Different frames of reference. Different backgrounds. Different bases of knowledge. Differing degrees of understanding of natural processes….and, of course, even within the field of biology there is a wide range of experience and knowledge, which is why we might not have such an unacceptable project had the public not be shut out of meetings where this project was planned.

    Feedback from those who have more understanding and information about the life processes at Malibu Lagoon would have created a far different project. Instead, Heal the Bay chose to plan this project behind closed doors. The one meeting where two members of the public (by far, *not* the entire Malibu Lagoon Task Force) were allowed to attend, those two people were not allowed to speak. We did learn quite a bit through listening. Maybe there is regret we were even allowed to do this and find out about the breadth and scope of this project.

    Of course, this feedback must be listened to and regarded as important, unlike the processes at the Ballona Wetlands, where comments have been taken, but similarly disregarded, as if only certain people have information that is accurate or supportive of plans that have already been chosen.

  • […] is the big showdown at the Coastal Commission over Malibu Lagoon’s restoration plan. There’s an odd volley of objections out there. My favorite in the absurdity […]

  • Now that the poisons have been removed the project, we must get the bulldozers and $2 million dewatering machine removed, and we have to debunk the theory that there are major fish die-offs, which is the primary reason Mark Abramson is giving for needing to do this industrial-strength habitat alteration, which in no way can be legitimately termed a restoration.

    The only times that there are any sort of “fish die-offs” are when the lagoon is unnaturally and illegally breached. When Mother Nature breaches the lagoon, it is done gently and the fish and other marine life somehow communicate with each other and line up and know when it is time to go out to sea. The most recent illegal breaching demonstrated well what happens when human intervention occurs.

  • What were they trying to use the ‘poisons’ on? Is there arundo in there? I’ve never heard of anyone successfully getting rid of that without herbicide, unless it were in a backyard or somesthing.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      As mentioned in my post, they had committed to not using herbicides, and Mark Abramson has a record for not using herbicides at his restoration sites, where large areas of highly invasive non-native plants have been removed through hand labor. There was standard language (not from Coastal Commission staff I later found out) that was submitted with the permit.

  • Actually, according to Coastal commission staff, the poisons were going to be used on a number of nonnative plants — the ones not ripped out by the bulldozers, which will be the majority — mostly native cover, by the way. There is not that much arundo in the Malibu Lagoon State Park ~ however, that was the excuse we were given when we first complained about the poisons. “It is the only thing that can get rid of arundo” – which we knew to be un-true, as citizens in Topanga Creek watershed proved to State Parks and others that they could remove if the citizen groups came back enough time. Unfortunately, because arundo is upstream in all of these watersheds, it will be constantly something that needs to be managed — as it will return. Community groups are the answer. If it were not for the constant outcry by concerned activists, Condition #9 related to the use of herbicides would not have been removed, and contractors would have been permitted to use the poisons. I had heard from Commission staff that Mark Abramson is the one who provided all of the submissions for the permit — it looked like this is verified from all of the review of the Coastal Commission files I did.

  • naturalist.charlie says:

    when I left California about a year ago that arundo in Topanga was more abundant than ever. I mean no disrespect to the people who live there and care for that canyon, but the truth is, at least as of 2009, the arundo was thriving and spreading in Topanga Canyon. It is true that arundo will re-infest a site if it is present upstream, but from what it looked like, the very same clumps that people were trying to manually remove was still there, doing fine, if not expanding. Meanwhile, the creek continues to eat away at the road, and while there are many reasons for this, arundo has been shown to increase flooding and erosion. If round-up had been used, there is a chance the road would not have washed away, and the massive expense and energy used to repair a road to me seems ‘worse’ than the possible damage to the ecosystem due to application of round-up. This is admittedly speculation on my part as the road may have washed away in 2005 anyway (that was a lot of rain). Something to think about though.

    I do believe it is ‘possible’ to remove Arundo without herbicide but the labor and time involved are tremendous and would just mean most of those projects are un-doable. Even if somehow the Topanga residents got rid of that relatively small infestation… in larger watersheds such as the Santa Clara River and Ventura River, we basically have two options: use round-up to try to get rid of the arundo, or just write the river off as an arundo monoculture for the duration of all of our lives. Eventually things will speciate back in… in tens of thousands of years.

    Unfortunately, it seems that most people, from the most right-wing developer to the most left-wing environmentalist, have decided to let the arundo go. It’s a shame, but at least I don’t have to watch the rivers be completely ruined because I don’t liev in California anymore.

  • Linda says:

    How does one justify destroying life to improve it? Would you bulldoze a human neighborhood while the people are still living in it make it better in the long run? Your thinking, sir, is quite faulty. There have been many sound arguments and alternatives to this drastic measure; unfortunately the $$$ speak louder to the coastal commission.

    • Jessica Hall says:

      I disagree. If it’s the ecosystem you’re thinking about, it’s more like choosing between keeping a poorly healed broken bone or breaking it to reset it. How functional would you want a human, or for that matter a wetland, to be? Yes, there’s pain in the healing process.

  • charlie says:

    how do you justify destroying life to improve it? You’re right, good point. I assume you are opposed to treating diseases with antibiotics, or removing cancerous tumors? Those are life as well.

  • Barbara M. says:

    Charlie, Jessica, I can’t believe you are equating killing endangered species and other individual animals at Malibu Lagoon with re-setting a broken arm. It is clear that this is a science project to you, or maybe a gardening project (with bulldozers), but it is not a restoration. In restoration, an artist does not rip up a work of art and start over.

  • I’m not sure I agree with that. I think that often IS what restoration is. If you oppose it, that’s fine, we need to always talk about and challenge what we are doing. But just like in medicine, most cures do some sort of harm to obtain a greater good.

    This is not a comment on Malibu Lagoon but just on restoration in general.

  • Athena Shlien says:

    Much of the thinking here is based on Western Medicine. Let’s talk about a different approach, one that may take longer but would heal stronger; preventative medicine is more likely the real cure to a serious problem that has developed over time. We don’t need to give the lagoon a root canal, granted many dentists have been known to pull teeth that are really quite healthy. Do we need to destroy habitat to make it stronger, especially when the source is never even touched upon? Let’s focus on the cause of pollution at the lagoon then worry about the healing path. The lagoon, if dredged will hold even more of Tapia’s water. So the water isn’t cleaner, it just circulates better. The more water Malibu Lagoon can hold, the more development up-stream. These plants aren’t just important because humans are attached to them ~ this is an ecosystem that provides for many types of animals. What makes you humans think you have the right to destroy a functioning habitat? This thinking has gotten us into much trouble time and time again. For the sake of future generations, don’t think of yourself. It’s not about you guys, it’s about the ecology, the language of the land. The trees have rights, the birds, the streams, the stars….we all have a say. Ask the animals what needs to be done…after all they have seen their homes destroyed time and time again, all in the name of ecology.

  • Jessica Hall says:

    Actually, in acupuncture you release blockages through the application of needles. But you wouldn’t want your patient to hold on to the stagnation because they’re surviving or externally look ok superficially. You’d release the blockage to bring better circulation and function. Bridge piers and poorly designed channels are creating “stagnation” in that parlance.

    You ask what right do we (or anyone) have to destroy a functioning ecosystem. The ecosystem isn’t functioning well. It’s that simple. The changes in the plans increase its long-term self-sufficiency. My medical analogy is to the point: you can cope with something that’s broken or thrive with something that’s healed – but takes some suffering to get healed. Which do you choose? Do you wish richness and abundance for these species? I do. Natural processes should regulate their habitat, but our human imposed structures that you’d have us keep in place impede this.

  • charlie says:

    habitat restoration is something like 0.000000000000000000000000001% of all disturbance to wildlife habitat and unlike suburban sprawl, etc, the habitat comes back, usually in a much more stable state than it was before.

    I also don’t see what this has to do with western medicine VS other types of medicine. Sticking a needle in someone is also a temporary negative effect, even if it has positive effects in the longer term.

    I don’t know what is best for Malibu Lagoon. I do, though, think this weird conservationalismform of ‘infrastructure’ and other battle to keep the crappy 20th century status quo, that I keep seeing in this blog, is disturbing and a huge jump backwards. Yeah, things were better 500 years ago, ecologically speaking, and will be better in 100 years, hopefully. The 20th century will probably (hopefully) end up being the peak of ecosystem abuse, mismanagement, and overbearing dysfunctional engineering, in the history of human existence. The more we can do to get away from our dead end, harmful 20th century infrastructure and management, the better!

  • charlie says:

    oops, not sure what happened with that weird sentence, it should say ” I do, though, think this weird ‘conservationalism of infrastructure’ and other battles to keep the crappy 20th century status quo, that I keep seeing in this blog, is disturbing and a huge jump backwards.”

    The bottom line: managing to maintain 20th century baselines is managing for the lowest common denominator, or pretty darn close to it.

  • Charlie says: “habitat restoration is something like 0.000000000000000000000000001% of all disturbance to wildlife habitat”

    I’d be interested in hearing where this assertion comes from. If there has been such a study of disturbance to wildlife, my guess is there is no project that was analyzed like what is planned for Malibu Lagoon. If one looks at the photo at the top of this blog post, please note that nearly everything west of the Creek channel will be drained and bulldozed away. That’s death and destruction, not healing, which is what restoration is supposed to be about. This is not a restoration project by any definition put forth by the “father of restoration” — Aldo Leopold. Endangered fish will be killed, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service. This is not restoration or mere “disturbance to wildlife.”

  • charlie says:

    I can drive from Oxnard to Redlands, a distance of 125 miles, while crossing maybe less than 10 miles of natural habitat (and no ‘restored’ habitat) and well over 100 miles of solid (sub)urbanization. All of that was intact habitat once. Suburban sprawl has destroyed MANY MILLIONS OF ACRES of habitat and continues to eat up or threaten to eat up the Santa Clara River watershed, the areas around Santa Barbara and Gorman, the Central Valley, the desert, and just about anywhere else it hasn’t already destroyed. Habitat restoration isn’t, has never been, and never will be ANYWHERE on the radar of habitat destruction – especially since the end result is more habitat, not less.

    Malibu Creek’s tidal lagoon supports a tiny, degraded, unnatural wetland. It isn’t valueless, of course, but it is far less than what it once was. You may already know that ONE El Nino flood of Malibu Creek completely churns up much more habitat along the creek than the entire area of the lagoon – and this tends to happen every 7 to 10 years! In a time before PCH and the associated riprap and artificial wetland construction, one El Nino Flood in the shifting channel would immediately do what you are calling ‘death and destruction’ – perhaps in a matter of minutes. (of course, there is a chance it will still do so at some point, and no doubt you will be calling for a reconstruction of the old artificial wetland, rather than allowing natural succession to occur). The lagoon ecosystem is adapted to periodic disturbance, and what it is not adapted to is being forced into a static location by concrete and ditches and infestation of invasive species.

    I recommend you go pull A Sand County Almanac off your dusty shelf and re-read the chapter ‘Cheat Takes Over’. Too bad so many people fighting for the status quo back then stopped us from solving the cheatgrass problem while we still cound – the ultimate consequences will probably include the loss of the Joshua Tree as a functioning ecosystem component, and the establishment of destructive and life-threatening grass fires where they never occurred before. Leopold was a pragmatic conservationist who understood that humans are a part of nature, and rather than taking no action, we need to take the proper actions. I seriously doubt he would defend concrete riprap and constructed canals in an area that could be turned back into a functional wetland. In fact, even his wikipedia article mentions RESTORING NATURAL DIVERSITY! You can’t accomplish that with riprap.

    Of all the people to choose to back up your claims, Leopold is an odd choice.

    • Charlie ~ Someone has misinformed you. There is no rip-rap being removed from the Malibu Lagoon in the planned restoration we have been discussing. The worst part of this project is the native plant and animal life amidst the marsh mud (acres of it!) that will be destroyed.

  • Hans Laetz says:

    Well, the deadline for filing a suit was 2 hours ago. Was one filed?

    I have spent months watching this unfold. I have read the “Save Malibu Lagoon”web page, and considered the arguments.

    I do not for the life of me understand how any legal challenge would succeed. If there has been an abuse of discretion here, it has not been shown. Well intentioned worries over gobies being temporarily relocated while their lagoon is dredged just doesn’t rise to the level of abuse of discretion, which is what must be proved to win a lawsuit here.

    The courts grant wide latitude to governing agencies to act as they see fit to promulgate policies to enforce the law.

    Friends, no one likes to see wildlife displaced. But … like the lady from the Sierra Club told the Coastal Commission … sometimes to make an omelet you have to break some eggs.

    Marcia … You are a hero for doing what you do. But there is a time to say “we’ll keep our powder for the next one.”

    I hope you took the wise course, Marcia, and let this drop.

    • Hans ~ good to see you writing here! It is regretful that we disagree on this matter, but I hope you will become more informed.

      Indeed, there are two really talented public interest environmental lawyers who stated in the papers they filed today that there was indeed abuse of discretion ~ multiple times. The law is pretty strong in terms of wetlands and ESHA protection, as well as maintaining maximum public access to the sea.

      And gobies will not be only “temporarily relocated” — their habitat would be destroyed by this project, potentially permanently due to the alterations the plan would carry out….including the destruction of imperiled submerged aquatic vegetation.

      If you’d like a copy of the petition so you can learn more, send me an email message, and I’d be happy to send one to you.

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You are currently reading Restoring Malibu Lagoon at L.A. Creek Freak.


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