Environment & Science

Drought, DWP decide fate of Chatsworth Ecology Pond, to activists' dismay

Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
camz5678/via Flickr
Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets can be seen at the Chatsworth Nature Preserve Ecology Pond, photographed on Thursday, July 16, 2015. The pond is diminishing and with it much of the wildlife that the pond supported. Local residents and activists are fighting to get the Department of Water and Power to replenish the pond with a water supply that has been shut off due to the drought.
Photos by Susanica/For KPCC
Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
Amie Akridge (left) speaks lovingly of the wildlife at the Chatsworth Nature Preserve Ecology Pond, photographed on Thursday, July 16, 2015, and is upset to see it dying as the pond evaporates more each day. Local residents and activists are fighting to get the Department of Water and Power to replenish the pond with a water supply that has been shut off due to the drought.
Photos by Susanica/For KPCC
Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
A few Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets at the edge of the Chatsworth Nature Preserve Ecology Pond, photographed on Thursday, July 16, 2015. The pond is diminishing and with it much of the wildlife that the pond supported. Local residents and activists are fighting to get the Department of Water and Power to replenish the pond with a water supply that has been shut off due to the drought.
Photos by Susanica/For KPCC
Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
Cracked mud is "treacherous" to wildlife trying to cross it at the Chatsworth Ecological Pond.
camz5678/via Flickr
Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
Birder Mark Osokow of the San Fernando Valley Audobon Society participates in a yearly bird count at the Chatsworth Nature Preserve Ecology Pond. He said with the current conditions on Thursday, July 16, 2015, the migrating birds are losing a stop they have used to refuel along their annual migration. The food source for the birds is burrowing deeper into the mud or drying up, which affects the food chain, he said.
Photos by Susanica/For KPCC
Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
A locked fence surrounds the Chatsworth Nature Preserve Ecology Pond, photographed on Thursday, July 16, 2015. The pond is diminishing and with it much of the wildlife that the pond supported. Local residents and activists are fighting to get the Department of Water and Power to replenish the pond with a water supply that has been shut off due to the drought.
Photos by Susanica/For KPCC
Forty years ago, the LADWP decided to establish a pond near the Chatsworth Reservoir to support wildlife. But the city says the pond was intended to be self-supporting while it lasted.
Two puddles at the Chatsworth Ecology Pond remain where water once covered 2 acres.
camz5678/via Flickr


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A nature pond established 40 years ago by the City of Los Angeles is drying up, to the protests of Chatsworth activists. The pond is the latest victim of a changing balance between saving wildlife and saving water.

In the past, the pond, home to more than 200 species of birds, has grown and shrunk as rain has fallen, or as the city of Los Angeles has supplemented the pond with fresh drinking water. Since drought was declared last year, the DWP has turned off the tap.

The decision has been protested by the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, which has collected data about birds at the pond for more than 50 years. Audubon's Mark Osokow agrees that drought makes cutbacks necessary, but claims DWP's present policy is extreme. "We've had droughts before," Osokow said. "But we haven't had this situation where DWP decided it was going to cut off water 100%."

Osokow and Fisher are part of a local coalition that says history and the well being of wildlife obligate the city of L.A. to protect the pond.

Since the mid-1970s, a pipe from the LA Department of Water and Power has helped the Chatsworth Ecology Pond grow; recently, it's been a couple of acres big.  Now egrets and migrating birds splash in two puddles a few feet across. Cracked and deep, silty mud called "treacherous" by activists surrounds those puddles. Scattered across the dried pond bed are pieces of wood on which naturalists walked to rescue turtles.

"The problem is right in front of our eyes, the pond is dying," Dina Fisher said. Fisher is a neighbor to the pond. She observed it from an overlook across the street, off the 118 freeway.

"I love seeing the birds get access to a little bit of water, trust me, but this is not enough," said Fisher.

In 1974, LA's chief engineer for water, Charles Lane, told state fish and wildlife managers the city was establishing the pond "to enhance … habitat for migratory waterfowl."

 

Caption: Dina Fisher, a local resident observes the remaining birds at the Chatsworth Nature Preserve Ecology Pond on Thursday, July 16, 2015. Fisher has been active in the push to have the ecology pond replenished since the DWP shut off its water supply earlier this year. Photo: Susanica Tam for KPCC

But the LADWP’s Anselmo Collins says not anymore.

"In our mind, it was an experimental pond, but it wasn’t necessarily going to be a permanent thing," said Collins. Collins points out that in that same 1974 letter establishing the pond, his predecessor wrote that DWP intended for the pond to exist until "overriding water system requirements necessitate its modification or termination."

Water system requirements are changing, and LA has a new goal to strengthen its local water supplies. The pond was supposed to be "self-sustaining;" changing conditions might prevent that in the future. The simple fact, he said, is that every drop counts.

"We are in the fourth year of a severe drought," said Collins. "Times have changed. We’re asking everybody to conserve, starting with ourselves."

DWP says it's weighing other pond sources; it could come from groundwater supplies, or from stormwater, if the site were re-graded to improve capture. The DWP will hold a public meeting August 6 to discuss these and other options with the community.