How Do Wetlands Affect Us?

The Importance of the Ballona Wetlands

Ballona is the only remaining coastal wetlands in Los Angeles County and one of the most valuable habitats for rare and endangered species in Southern California. Although wetlands are crucial for sustaining plant, animal, and human quality of life, many wetlands are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Approximately 5% of California’s original wetlands remain; in addition, Los Angeles County has lost over 98% of its wetlands.

Why All 1087 Acres Must Be Preserved:

Wetland species require “buffers” where they can retreat during high water and where runoff pollutants and sediments can be filtered before entering the wetland itself. Sub-tidal beds, inter-tidal flats, and lower and upper marsh areas accommodate species. The survival of plants and animals depends on adapting to alternating levels of fresh and salt water, fluctuating salt concentrations, periodic inundation and dry conditions, varying temperatures and varying concentrations of dissolved oxygen. Losing any of the remaining Ballona Wetlands will be a sure death for many species by restricting them to an area too small to support them.

The Wetlands Continue to Suffer:

Ballona Wetlands currently suffers from development and loss of tidal water exchange. A 1930s-era flood control channel diverting upstream storm water directly into Santa Monica Bay successfully helped protect residents and homes from floods, but it also led to severe degradation of the salt marsh. Currently salt marsh vegetation has decayed and been invaded by several species of aggressive exotic plants. Only a few fish species are able to tolerate the poor water quality in the channels and fluctuating salinity and dissolved oxygen.

Today the Playa Vista Development, located east of Lincoln Blvd, also threatens to severely degrade the marsh. Homes are being built directly on wetlands southeast of Lincoln, and the fresh water marsh of the preserved state-owned wetlands, which lies southwest of Lincoln, is receiving run-off from construction.

Santa Monica Bay Watershed: The greater Ballona Creek drains a watershed of approximately 329 square kilometers (81,300 acres) and is the largest drainage tributary to the Santa Monica Bay. Ballona Creek collects runoff from several partially urbanized canyons on the south slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains as well as from intensely urbanized areas of West Los Angeles, Culver City, Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and parts of Central Los Angeles. The urbanized areas account for 80 percent of the watershed area, and the partially developed foothills and mountains make up the remaining 20 percent. (for information on how the Ballona Wetlands Land Trust is working to clean our Watershed, click here)

Although the Wetlands still suffer, there are many that are working to protect and restore them. The same group that built the cement walls and floors for the Ballona Creek are now finding ways to break them down. Many groups are beginning to see the importance of wetlands. For example:

Army Corps of Engineers and Natural Treatment Wetlands: To help restore the 192 acres of remaining wetlands, The Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a project that would replace the current system of gates with a new system that would restore tidal circulation and ebb and flow cyclical “flushing” to a 13.5 acre section of the wetlands. The $1.25 million project would provide greater opportunity to increase the habitat’s biological productivity. The project would also attempt to modify three existing tidal gates with three new kinds of tide gates which are designed to restore normal synchronized tidal cycles in lower Ballona Creek-the wetland channels. When completed the new tide-gate system is expected to allow a near complete exchange of water volume with each tidal cycle. It is expected that the improved movement and level of circulating water-which would restore tidal circulation and flushing–would benefit the salt marsh ecosystem and especially fisheries and marsh bird habitat. For more about the Army Corp’s Ballona Project please visit their website.

Human Quality of Life:

The Ballona Wetlands are a naturally beautiful place to watch birds, draw, photograph, bike or hike. But wetlands also have other important uses, and there are serious consequences to their degradation and loss.

Water Quality: Wetlands greatly influence the flow and quality of water by intercepting surface runoff and removing or retaining nutrients, processing organic wastes, and reducing sediments before they reach open water. Loss of the Ballona Wetlands would further decrease water quality in the Santa Monica Bay.

Flood and Erosion Control: Wetlands are like sponges, storing excess flood and surface water, and then slowly releasing it. Trees and other vegetation help slow floodwaters, especially during storms. The combined action of storage and slowing can lower flood heights and reduce the water’s erosive potential. Loss of the Ballona Wetlands will contribute to increased annual flooding and erosion.

Property Values: Property values are often increased if the home is located near a wetland. (Although this is not the case if the home is located on the wetland, as this property is more likely to flood and have water damage!) Property near wetlands are often more valuable because of their proximity to open space, improved water quality, and improved estheticism. Studies suggest that property values may rise 5%, 8%, even 11% or more, depending on the degree of proximity to the wetland. Also, higher property values generate higher tax revenues, and therefore have a significant fiscal impact on local government.

Economic Significance: A study appearing in NATURE (5/15/97) found that estuaries [like Ballona] ($1.6 trillion) are the single most valuable type of coastal ecosystem. A single hectare of wetlands may produce goods and services worth from $10,000 to $20,000 each year. The economic value of Southern California’s vanished wetlands can be estimated in the loss of fisheries, the rising rate of asthma, the lack of recreational and open land resources, and in the enormous loss of biodiversity.

Birds and Biodiversity:

The Ballona Wetlands are part of the Pacific Flyway, one of four main migration routes in North America stretching from Alaska to Central America and one of the largest flyways in the world. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 43% of threatened and endangered species rely on wetlands. Indeed, over two hundred marine bird species are sustained by the Ballona Wetlands, including water, marsh, shore, and sea birds. The Ballona Wetlands are a spawning ground for the emblematic Great Blue Heron, the California Brown Pelican, and the El Segundo Blue Butterfly, and a permanent home for many other mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, a number of which are endemic or endangered species.