By Linda Pemberton; Linda lives in Belmont Heights, and sits on the Boards of two non-profit organizations that support and protect the Los Cerritos Wetlands.
In a quiet corner of a 500 acre, scarred landscape, Steam Shovel Slough sits as an ancient remnant of a once thriving wetland of 2,400 acres. It lies peacefully among power plant cooling towers and century-old oil pumps, pipes, and tanks that splay out across dry patches of land. It sits forgotten between industrial fields and dense urban development.
A muted sea flow from Alamitos Bay sustains it. A few endangered Belding Savannah sparrows flit along the vegetation that lines its banks. Few in the community know of its existence or care, but we should. Over the past 100 years as we were busy taming this Southern California watershed for our own use, Steam Shovel Slough remained placidly hidden in the background, ever constant, reminding us of what once was and what is possible again.
What took many decades to fill, fragment and degrade will take major efforts and time to restore. Last year we saw significant progress. First, the Coastal Commission approved the City’s land use plan (SEASP) which defines and protects our remaining 500 acres of wetland. Then, the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority, who manage the public ownership and restoration of the wetlands, developed and approved a Habitat Restoration Plan and an environmental impact report for the entire 500 acres. The Wetlands Authority holds 170 acres in public trust. As the remaining privately owned land transfers to public hands, it will be restored and opened up for residents to enjoy.
The Coastal Commission also moved things forward by granting permits for the Beach Oil Minerals Partners project to start its consolidation of roughly 183 acres of oil operations down to a mere 10 acres, clearing the way for public ownership, major restoration, and public access of the remaining acres. This year as we drive along Pacific Coast Highway and look to the East, we will see old oil pipes and tanks being removed from their property north of 2nd Street.
The Los Cerritos Wetland Authority continued its on-going restoration efforts in Zedler Marsh, a ten-acre site along the San Gabriel River. Access from the bike path was opened to the public last year. In another milestone, they began their detailed engineering plan for the restoration of the 100-acre site they own, east of Pacific Coast Highway and south of 2nd Street, along the Seal Beach border.
In 2022, we will see tangible evidence of this decades-long restoration project which will bring back a bit of what we have lost and what we greatly need: a thriving landscape of wildlife with open skies and wide horizons, fresh air and clean water; a landscape that provides a center of calm amidst our urban noise and visual blight; and a landscape that will address some of the adverse consequences of global warming and sea level rise in our local area.
While progress continues slowly, it’s encouraging to see all the efforts moving us forward. Just take a look at Steam Shovel Slough and imagine what is to come.