A stench that’s hard to swallow – unless you’re a swallow

August 2, 2011 § 5 Comments

Runoff from a culvert into Ballona Creek. Photo: Rick Pine

Thanks to an email chain, I’ve been following this latest issue on Ballona Creek.  A culvert connecting to lower Ballona Creek has become a bubbling cauldron of trouble.  The culvert drains portions of West Los Angeles, as far north as Washington Boulevard, and joins Ballona Creek west of Centinela Avenue.  Observers on the bike path noted white liquids discharging to the creek, setting off an email chain to identify the fluid and the source.  It has taken a few months for an understanding of the source to emerge.

Turns out, the milky substance is being vaguely attributed by public officials to grunion.  Grunion are running Ballona Creek?  All the way up Ballona to this culvert, where grunion fluids are decomposing and creating a gnarly stench that is upsetting an entire neighborhood?  I can only assume this means the grunion are somehow running the culvert, becoming trapped and dying in there.

The milky substance was later seen from yet another drain, decreasing the likelihood that there’s a serial dumper out there running from drain to drain.  The assessment at this point remains that this is an organic substance caused by grunion.

Juvenile barn swallow at culvert. Photo: Rick Pine.

To make matters more complicated, habitat-deprived barn swallows have been nesting in the culvert.  (One wonders at their sense of smell) Officials seeking to stem the odor hung a curtain over the drain, and also sandbagged and flushed the drain – actions which would likely affect the swallow nests.  And now, juvenile swallows have been observed in nearby drains, increasing the likelihood that our offending drain also has (or had) bambinos.

Having engineered the habitat, how do we engineer our way out of this conundrum?  Here we see wildlife at their most adaptable, and yet the “habitat” is so unsuitable for long term sustainability.  Looking forward to your thoughts.

Thanks to Rick Pine for generously sharing his photos.  Additional documentation of his is posted here.

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§ 5 Responses to A stench that’s hard to swallow – unless you’re a swallow

  • Rick P says:

    I wouldn’t rule out dumping, the two drains where the substance has discharged into the creek are interconnected underground.

  • Charlie says:

    Could the white stuff be bird poop?

  • Jessica Hall says:

    I don’t know Charlie, but I have since been advised by a biologist that it’s pretty unlikely that the white stuff is grunion-related.

  • I mean, I still think pollution is more likely than bird poop, but it seems possible that if the swallows have been nesting in there a long time, and the culvert doesn’t flush out during rains (seems unlikely)… that there’d be a buildup of guano that could either directly seep into the water or cause weird algal blooms.

    Seems unlikely, but it would be neat if it were just a bunch of birds, rather than malicious humans

  • Jonathan Coffin says:

    It’s absolutely not possible that the tiny Barn Swallows are the source of the stench that persists coming from inside the outfall into the Ballona Creek Estuary. The only reason the Barn Swallows have inadvertently come into this discussion is because Public Works installed a barrier curtain as a band aid with no consideration or awareness for the Barn Swallows parents who were already actively feeding nestlings inside until the barrier was constructed and trapped the peeping nestlings in the outfall as their parents were desperately trying to find a way to enter and continue the feedings. When the barrier was removed the Swallows began feeding nestlings again at a rate of six feedings by both parents in a ten minute period. The only thing that would have led to the Barn Swallow nestlings certain demise would have been if the barrier curtain had been left intact.

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