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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Watershed Meeting Allows Sides on Lagoon Issue to Address Their Serious Differences of Opinion

• Issue of Plan Transparency Continues

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

Both sides in the Malibu Lagoon Restoration Project debate had an opportunity to talk at the Malibu Creek Watershed Council Meeting at Malibu City Hall on March 24.
State Parks spokesperson and lead project proponent Suzanne Goode presented “The Truth About Malibu Lagoon: a Film” at the meeting, and discussed the evolution of the project, which entails draining, dredging and reconstructing the western portion of the Malibu Lagoon.
Goode said the restoration project was developed over the course of 10 years with the help of professional facilitators, numerous meetings and input from the Lagoon Task Force, which was created in 1995. Goode indicated that more than 100 recommendations were reduced during the process to 44 action items. “A lot of studies were done,” Goode said.
She explained that the current restoration plan was designed to address the water level in the lagoon during the periods when the berm creates a closed system. At the time, the lagoon, flooded by discharge from the Tapia wastewater treatment plant upstream, breached frequently, contaminating the ocean at Surfrider Beach.
“A lot of problems admittedly originate in the upper watershed,” Goode said. “But there was a use in focusing on the lower watershed.”
Keeping the water level lower by increasing the lagoon’s holding capacity would result in “fewer occasions when people would be exposed to pollution,” Goode said.
She outlined an earlier engineering solution project to lower water that would have employed a rubber bladder buried in the sand.
“I was never very comfortable about that project,” Goode said. “In 2000 [there was] a study on what is happening in lower watershed: plants, water, geomorphology. This was really quite valuable info. At that point, we decided we shouldn’t go with bladder.”
Goode, explained that at that period, the Tapia plant was prohibited from discharging for seven months out of the year. “That really helped keep the water level low and there were fewer breach events,” she said.
“A UCLA study came up with a whole matrix of actions that could be taken,” Goode continued. “We couldn’t do all of them. Some canceled each other out.”
According to Goode, the people that participated in the subsequent 12 months of meetings to winnow the UCLA recommendations down to a practical number included representatives from three home owners associations, state parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, Los Angeles Beaches and Harbors, surfing associations, and others.
“We met every month,” Goode said, calling it “ a very excruciating experience.”
Goode said the process resulted in a “high priority long term and short term” plans for salt marsh restoration that included reconnecting hydrology and increasing salt marsh habitat, and would “increase tidal flushing in the wet season, improve water circulation, [and] increase water capacity.” The plan was then presented at Malibu City Hall in 2001.
“We argued over every comma, colon, period,” she said. “This was unanimously decided on. Every member signed off.”
Goode described the project’s critics as “people who haven’t lived in Malibu for long,” adding that “there is a lot of misinformation.”
Regarding the surfbreak, which project critics say was altered during the 1983 restoration, and could potentially be impacted by the 2011 project, Goode said that the restoration work is entirely in the western channels and that it can’t impact the waves. “The berm will not be touched,” she said.
Goode also explained that the project does not address pollution from upstream because state parks has no control over upstream pollution sources. We don’t have the authority to address it,” she said. The primary purpose of this project is ecological restoration. The purpose is not to clean the water that comes from upstream. That is not something state parks can do in the lagoon.”
“The lagoon is not healthy. The western channels are not healthy. We can make it healthier for the wildlife that lives there. Instead of three channels parallel to the opening, [there will be] one channel oriented to the outflow.”
“The [San Fernando Valley chapter of the] Audubon Society officially opposes the project,” organization chair Mark Osokow told the task force. “A lot of the information you presented is correct but you are presenting a lot of information related to natural process as bad and I would dispute that. Anybody who has studied salt marshes, and I’ve studied them, knows its not a steady state system.” Osokow said he wrote his thesis on the lagoon, but that his research, and that of other academic researchers, was not incorporated in the project.
“You can’t flush out more and increase holding, they’re contradictory,” Osokow said. “[Project scientist Richard] Ambrose expressed that what you’re doing there is experimental. I would recommend that you look at the upper watershed first, before you deal with lagoon issues.”
“The western channels are themselves a manufactured ecosystem,” Goode replied. “If they were a totally natural set of channels I would agree with you, but they were not created properly.”
“There’s been a lot of work on upstream pollution sources,” Shelly Luce, executive director of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, said.
“The US Geological Survey has done extensive work,” City of Malibu grant consultant Barbara Cameron said. “They have observed things important to know, but nothing they have observed contradicts the plan. When the berm was closed in the summer very significant amounts of sand came over the berm into the lagoon. [It’s] a surprise how much intertidal action occurred when the berm was closed. A lot more information that generally supports [the plan] has been made available to the project team,” she said.
“The Lagoon Task Force stopped meeting,” project opponent Marcia Hanscom said. “Everything went underground. This project with this grading plan I didn’t see until this summer,” she said. “I was stunned by this. Why would you do this? Acres and acres of habitat that is functioning. It’s way more than anyone needs to do, if we need to do anything.”
Hanscom added that “A lot of studies that underscore this project are 10 years old. The only thing we’ve been able to find about species having trouble in the lagoon, the ones they name are marine invertebrates. Did they study the invertebrates that are there? No. It seems like there were different understandings of what was studied. People are reading all of the reports that are available and saying ‘wait a minute, this is too much.’”
Hanscom also criticized what she described as the project’s lack of input from the surfing community. “One guy, [Bob] Purvey, [went] to task force meetings representing surf interests. That was a big mistake. Many surfers say the surfbreak changed drastically in 1983. Just knowing that they saw it change would say to me you’ve got to have a study on this and how the sediment creates Third Point.”
Hanscom also blasted the plan on the issue of access. Stating that the plans call for removing, not relocating the current trail through the lagoon. “Two minus one leaves one,” she said. “You’re removing one and that’s not acceptable or legal.”
“My family has lived in Malibu for over 90 years,” Alden Marin told the task force. “I never once heard of this plan. I am being accused of coming forth with misinformation. My father swam there in [the lagoon] in the 1920s. He remembers it exactly the way it is now without the channels. The lagoon was always the way we know it, a small marsh.”
Marin described Malibu Creek and the “pristine pools” he swam in when he was child. “I wish we could join both sides [to clean up the watershed],” he said.

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