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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Watershed Project Proponent Organization Releases Report

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

The water quality advocacy organization Heal the Bay has released “Malibu Creek Watershed: An Ecosystem on the Brink,” a document summarizing 12 years of data collected by the organization’s “Stream Team” and “Stream Walk” programs, both comprised of professional staff and volunteers who have mapped the 110-square-mile watershed and gather monthly water quality data at sites throughout the Santa Monica Mountains.
The report, co-authored by Sarah Sikich, Katherine Pease, Sarah Diringer, Mark Abramson, Mark Gold and Shelley Luce, is intended to be a call to action to limit future environmental degradation and remedy existing concerns, and a tool for developing policies to protect and restore the watershed.
Longtime Malibu residents will not be surprised to learn that the watershed faces impacts from channelization and other construction, agricultural and urban pollutants, invasive species and illegal dumping. Many of the most serious issues facing the watershed are located outside of the City of Malibu but they still impact the city because all of the water in the watershed enters the bay in Malibu.
While the document is called “On the Brink,” many of the watershed impairments discussed in the report have been present for decades, predating the environmental movement and subsequent policies that protect waterways and have lead to increased water quality awareness.
According to the report, development has slowed considerably in the watershed in recent years.
“Analyses comparing the 2001 and 2005 SCAG [Southern California Association of Governments] land use data indicate that land use designations in the Malibu Creek Watershed changed by less than one percent over this time period,” the report states.
“Despite its location in one of the largest urban areas in the world, the 110-square mile watershed is dominated by open space. Over 75 percent of the Malibu Creek Watershed is undeveloped,” the report finds.
“The Malibu Creek Watershed contains a wide variety of diverse habitats including coastal strand, oak and riparian woodlands, chaparral, coastal sage scrub, native grasslands, sulfur springs, and brackish water lagoon,” the report states.
“The watershed is home to several threatened and endangered plants and animals. Few natural areas globally can rival the extraordinary biological and habitat diversity of the Malibu Creek Watershed and greater Santa Monica Mountains, especially in close proximity to such a dense urban area. Even though the watershed is less populous than the rest of the Los Angeles area, the impacts of urbanization on the local natural resources are prevalent.”
The report raises concerns over stream barriers, including extensive areas of concrete, riprap, culverts, bridges, and concrete channels.
“We found that areas with 6.3 percent impervious cover show major signs of biological degradation,” the report states. “This finding is surprising, given that it is a much lower level of impervious cover that causes negative has been shown in previous studies.”
In recent years Heal the Bay  has contracted to  assist in the removal of barriers that include a Texas crossing in Malibu Creek State Park, but the report identifies many additional obstacles in the watershed, ranging from dams to culverts.
A removal plan for Rindge Dam, which was built in the 1920s, and is  one of the oldest structures in Malibu Creek, is currently being developed by State Parks.
The project to remove the 100-foot tall dam is currently estimated to have an $80 million price tag and is complicated by the location of the structure deep in Malibu Canyon and the hundreds of tons of silt, stones and debris impounded behind the dam and spillway.
“It would open up more than 10 miles of habitat to steelhead trout,” Shelley Luce told the Malibu Surfside News during a press tour of the watershed. The southern steelhead trout is a federally listed species.
The report also details numerous additional obstacles farther upstream.
Invasive species were another issue addressed in the report. Giant cane, arundo donax, a bamboo-like European water plant, creates an impenetrable thicket that displaces native plants, clogs waterways and does not support native animal or insect populations.
Animal invaders in the watershed include the crawfish, which consume native amphibians and their eggs; bullfrogs, which compete with native species; and the New Zealand mud snail, a tiny freshwater snail that arrived in 2005, is spreading  through the watershed and is thought to be transported from creek to creek on  visitors’ shoes.
Increased agricultural use is another issue addressed in the report. “Heal the Bay staff expect to see an increase in viticulture within the watershed, as well as an increase in equestrian facilities in the middle and lower areas of the watershed,” the report states.
“It’s great having locally produced wines, but we don’t really know what the impact is yet,” Sarah Sikich told The News.
 “Protecting streams and riparian buffers from modification and development, and restoring altered streams are critical actions for protecting the long-term health of the Malibu Creek Watershed,” the report concludes.
“Local governments within the Malibu Creek Watershed should adopt stream health protection ordinances to guard streams and riparian buffers from degradation due to development and human encroachment, with a purpose of creating buffer zones or setbacks for all development next to soft-bottom streams and to restrict streambank modifications.
“Additionally, restoration activities, including stream barrier removals, must remain priorities in the Malibu Creek Watershed.”
“There are a lot of problems, but there is also hope,” Sikich told The News.”
The document is available online at www.healthebay.org

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