By Daniel Langhorne, Special to the Independent
A plan to restore Aliso Creek Estuary to a more natural state will likely require the creation of a joint powers authority—consisting of the city of Laguna Beach, the county and the South Coast Water District—to seek approval from a myriad of public agencies, according to the project’s primary supporter.
The Laguna Ocean Foundation shared the latest iteration of its plan to restore the estuary at a public meeting on Aug. 30 at the Susi Q Center. The fact that there’s no single public agency charged with restoring this estuary presents a logistical hurdle to apply for the $11 million needed to complete the restoration, said Ed Almanza, vice chair of the Laguna Ocean Foundation’s Board of Directors.
“Some creative thinking needs to happen and there’s enough brain power in those agencies to get it done,” Almanza said.
Among the significant changes to the site would be the demolition of the overflow parking lot for Aliso Beach Park off of Aliso Way. The parking lot would be converted back into habitat for native plants and animals, meanwhile, 76 parking spaces will be moved to the other side of the creek on a South Coast Water District property that runs along Village Lane.
The estuary restoration plan also recommends that the Aliso Creek bridge be widened so it doesn’t inhibit the exchange of water from the lagoon and salt water that spills over the beach. Urban pollutants, sludge, bacteria, and fertilizers currently rest at the bottom of the lagoon because the estuary isn’t functioning normally due to the bottleneck created by the bridge.
Neighbors of the lagoon will benefit from the estuary’s restoration because it will cut down on the smell that emanates from it during hot times of the year, Almanza said.
“It’s about bringing the system back to what it was historically and letting it be so it has its own resiliency,” he said.
The Laguna Ocean Foundation spent $300,000 it was awarded from the California Coastal Conservancy and anonymous donors to create a technical report by ESA, an environmental science and planning firm, which evaluated the current site conditions and lays out the impacts of the various alternatives for restoring the estuary. This process took about two years.
Almanza said Supervisor Lisa Bartlett supports the estuary’s restoration, but it will take the political will of a number of elected officials, including those on the Laguna Beach City Council, to see it through.
“This project has a long history, but this does feel like the moment politically—the science is there,” Almanza said.
Mike Beanan, who serves on the city’s Environmental & Sustainability Committee and is co-founder of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, attended the Aug. 30 meeting on the estuary restoration and supports the project because he’s and an avid ocean swimmer.
“The estuary is what filters all the inland impacts to the ocean, so if we have a healthy estuary we have a healthy ocean,” Beanan said.