Just over two years into the controversial Malibu Lagoon restoration project, a joint report by California State Parks and The Bay Foundation has declared Malibu’s wetland, located at the foot of Cross Creek Road near the Civic Center, is on track to rehabilitation.
The report, entitled “Malibu Lagoon Restoration and Enhancement Project Comprehensive Monitoring Report (Year 2),” gives extensive details about the state of the lagoon, which State Parks began to overhaul in 2013.
According to State Parks Senior Environmental Scientist Suzanne Goode, the report’s findings mean the rehab is “absolutely” a success.
“We feel it’s highly successful, and the data that we have collected proves that,” Goode told The Malibu Times.
Based on criteria for successful rehabilitation established by The Bay Foundation, the lagoon is considered to be on track for water quality improvement, circulation, invertebrate population and fish population.
The criteria for various elements of the lagoon’s rehabilitation were developed by a team of experts, explained The Bay Foundation’s Senior Watershed Advisor Mark Abramson.
“The criteria [were] developed based on the performance of the past lagoon and the issues identified by the technical advisory committee,” Abramson said.
Experts from an array of specialties, including algae and nutrients, birds, water quality, vegetation and more made up the advisory committee.
Permitting agencies that allowed for the lagoon restoration also had a hand in establishing the criteria.
“They all created kind of definable goals of what would constitute success,” Abramson said, “and then in the permits themselves — particularly for the Coastal Commission permits and the Army Corps permits — you have to define the success.”
Abramson and Goode agreed that the lagoon has had complete success so far.
“Now that it’s had a couple of years to recover, we’re finding that there are lots of native fish ... the invertebrates have repopulated in the good sediment, there’s more oxygen now, there’s a lot more fish and a lot more variety of fish and good water circulation,” Goode said.
When the lagoon project was first proposed five years ago, many residents, activist groups and City officials expressed concern that the lagoon could be harmed during de-watering, bulldozing and rebuilding. According to State Parks, concerns were unfounded.
“What people originally were criticizing is they said we shouldn’t do anything, and they did not agree there was anything wrong with it,” Goode explained, stating that lagoon restoration attempts from the 1970s were unsuccessful. The attempts were made after Pacific Coast Highway projects dammed up the lagoon.
“In the ‘70s, State Parks bought the property and ... some channels were dredged into the fill that the highway (department) put in, and it was successful for a while,” Goode said, “but we didn’t really know much about wetland functions back in those days or how it worked, so it began to fill in with sediment because it didn’t have circulation.”
Now, the report states, circulation, which results in oxygenation, is back.
One lasting concern residents expressed is the remaining sprinkler system at the lagoon, which still waters plants once per month. In the original plan, sprinklers would only remain on the property for 18 to 20 months.
“Speak to State Parks — ask them if and when they can stop using drinking water to water the lagoon with their sprinkler systems,” stakeholder Wendi Dunn asked City Council during their March 23 meeting, expressing concerns over water waste during the drought.
“When you plant, there’s always that period where plants need supplemental water to establish themselves,” State Parks Angeles District Superintendent Craig Sap told The Malibu Times. “Of course, we put that in as part of the project in 2012, and fast forward two or three years, and the drought is more of an issue than ever before.”
Sap went on to say that sprinklers have been vandalized, though he couldn’t say for sure whether the vandals had any specific motive to remove the sprinkler heads.
“I think in the beginning it was probably resentment [to the lagoon restoration], because there had been some vandalism at the beginning of the project,” Sap said. “There had been some trapping to relocate animals and those were stolen.”
The latest vandalism, Sap said, is more likely local kids.
“There’s purple grease that’s on [the heads of the sprinklers],” Sap said. “We caught a couple kids because their hands turned purple. They were embarrassed more than anything.”
Goode said that as soon as the drought lets up or the plants become strong enough to survive on their own, the sprinklers will be gone.
“We hope that if we get a good rain year this year, we can pull those sprinklers out,” Goode said. “They’re only temporary.”