What’s Best for Ballona?

My name is Michelle Lin, and I started working at LA Waterkeeper as a Climate Corps AmeriCorps Fellow in October 2017. I’ve always been an environmentalist at heart, and I believe working at LAW has been a milestone in my journey. Since I started working here, I was fortunate enough to be a part of some really cool projects, including commenting on the Ballona Wetlands Draft Environmental Impact Report/Statement (EIR).

I remember going to my first meeting with the Wetlands Restoration Principles (WRP) partners and realizing the magnitude of issues this wetlands faces—including those who mispronounce its name (including myself at first). After the first meeting, I decided to see the wetlands for myself and took a drive around Ballona through Culver and Jeffrey Blvd. This was my first exposure to understanding the state of the Ballona Wetlands—which to say wasn’t very healthy. 

Ever since the release of the 1,200+ page EIR in September 2017, LAW and the WRP Coalition have worked hard to analyze and understand it. After countless of hours of communicating, researching, and writing, particularly in collaboration with our WRP Steering Committee partners, we have finally submitted our comments on the EIR to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). 

LA Waterkeeper strongly supports Alternative 1, Phase 1 and Phase 2 as presented in the EIR. We believe that of the four alternatives proposed, Alternative 1 best addresses the need to restore the wetlands and open public access.  

Draft EIR Rendering of Alternative 1 for Ballona Wetlands Restoration, courtesy of CDFW

Some of the reasons why we believe that Alternative 1 represents the best way forward are that it: 

  • Reconnects Ballona Creek to its historic floodplain through removal of levees and tide gates 
  • Creates the most habitat acreage  
  • Removes the most fill that was previously dumped onto the wetlands  
  • Best sets us up for climate change resilience, particularly in terms of sea level rise 
  • Provides the greatest amount of public access amenities that are in harmony with ecological goals 

Expected public access within Ballona Wetlands; courtesy of CDFW

Alternative 1 has two phases. Phase 1 entails realigning the Ballona Creek channel from a hardscaped straight channel to a meandering one. To address flooding and sea level rise, there will be construction of a new perimeter levee around part of the wetlands and increased areas of tidal marsh. In Phase 2, the flood protection perimeter levees and full tidal restoration will be completed.  

At the same time, there is room for improvement with Alternative 1, and in our comment letter we asked for the following changes:  

  • Provide more information on how the project design relates to watershed-level water quality improvement projects 
  • Promote the highest level of ecological self-sufficiency possible 
  • Engage community members in restoration and monitoring to a greater extent 

We also submitted another set of comments with the Coalition, comprised of Friends of Ballona Wetlands, Heal the Bay, Surfrider Foundation, and the Trust for Public Land. We agreed that there is a need for robust restoration and that Alternative 1, Phase 1 is a step in the right direction. Some of our main points were that we would like to see more efforts to protect rare and sensitive plants and animals during restoration processes, particularly for the Belding’s Savannah Sparrow, and more inclusive public amenities, including bathroom facilities at trailheads. These are just a few of many points mentioned in our joint letter, and we are hopeful that DFW will address our concerns.  

It was a liberating feeling to know our efforts solidified into a tangible document and are currently being considered by DFW. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work on this project. I felt that through this experience, I was not only able to meet esteemed professionals, but was also able to develop myself both as an environmentalist and professional member of society.  

 We are very excited for this large-scale plan and believe this is a stepping stone towards a healthier and wholesome wetlands and community. The next step will be for DFW to respond to all of the comments and release a Final EIR/EIS. We know this will set a precedent for future restoration projects, so we hope to see Ballona be restored to its maximum potential. We’ll keep you in the loop as we learn about the road toward the Final EIR/EIS. Best of luck, Ballona!  

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