Sepulveda Basin Still Waiting

“With all this interest in the L.A. River revitalization, I just wish people would realize that the Sepulveda Basin is the nursery of the river,” says Kris Ohlenkamp of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society. “Rookeries of great blue herons, night crowned herons, cormorants, all of these birds you see on the L.A. River nest here.”

After the South Wildlife area of the basin was bulldozed last December by the Army Corps of Engineers, Ohlenkamp has been deeply  involved in the politics of appealing to various city, county and state agencies on how to restore damages. More than 48 acres were leveled, leaving trees broken, ground disturbed and nesting areas gone.

Back then, the Corps defended its action saying that it was necessary to keep down criminal activities not to mention homeless encampments.

“Well, they have just made it worse,” says Ohlenkamp describing the two encampments that have taken up addresses at the wildlife refuge. Litter and trash are spewed about and no one has been collecting and emptying the trash cans, he says. “The city used to pick it up, but their permit expired two months ago and the Corps has not been maintaining or cleaning the area since April.”

For nine months, community groups, concerned citizens and a handful of politicians have met with the Corps. The last meeting was back in April.

In a letter posted on the San Fernando Valley Audubon website, Ohlenkamp expressed his frustration with the process:

We…have been consistently presenting ideas for restoration of the area and have been addressing the Corps expressed concerns….Our restoration proposal (presented to the Corps and Bureau of Sanitation on February 6 and again in more detail on March 20) was our attempt to facilitate a win/win situation where the wildlife values could actually be improved, while addressing all of the Corps concerns for minimal cost, low maintenance requirements, increased visibility for security, improved flood risk management, additional vehicle access, etc.

 We felt that our proposal was received in good faith….but… it was rejected in its entirety, at the April 23 meeting…

A new colonel, Kimberly Colloton, is slated to take over for the Army Corps on Oct. 1, 2013 and Ohlenkamp says that “for the fourth time, I am cautiously optimistic that we can get to the work at hand.”

Indeed, the Bureau of Sanitation has green-lighted the proposal to use recycled water to fill up a pond, a 3-acre lake with island and a 7-acre marsh in the basin. This stems from a proposal that was originally conceived from Ohlenkamp and others back in the 1980s and has been part of Corps documents from that time through 2010.

Ohlenkamp hopes that local L.A. River advocates and city leaders who are urging officials in Washington D.C. to sign off on a potential $1 billion plus restoration plan won’t forget that the Sepulveda Basin is part of the waterway.

“Yes, it’s going to cost some money to re-grade the ponds, install water features, restore the trails and roads, but we know in addition that grant money is out there,” he says adding that helping hands are eager to get going.  “I bet we put the word out and we could have 500 volunteers out there planting or doing what they can,” he says.

— Brenda Rees, editor

Sepulveda Basin Razed in 2012 -- Photo by Sierra Club, Los Angeles Chapter

Sepulveda Basin Razed in 2012 — Photo from the Sierra Club, Los Angeles Chapter