The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has certified the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a project to restore the largest coastal wetlands complex in Los Angeles County and increase public access to outdoor recreation and natural spaces in one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
The Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve (BWER) project will enhance and establish native coastal wetlands and upland habitat on 566 of the reserve’s 577 acres south of Marina del Rey and east of Playa del Rey. It will restore ecological function to currently degraded wetlands, preserving sensitive habitat for future generations and build climate resilience on a coast vulnerable to sea level rise.
The project also advances the Newsom Administration’s Executive Order of Oct. 7, 2020, focused on harnessing California’s vast network of natural and working lands to fight climate change and protect biodiversity. A more detailed project description is found in the final EIR.
CDFW is advancing the most restorative alternative in the final EIR – with a significant commitment to phasing the restoration work. This alternative offers the most restoration, which is important because of the huge degradation at BWER from a history of human impacts. The most restorative alternative also provides more climate resiliency buffer, because without this restoration sea level rise will overcome the remaining portions of BWER that have functioning wetlands and flood local roads more frequently, more severely and much sooner.
CDFW, in partnership with the State Coastal Conservancy and The Bay Foundation, has spent years working with the public and envisioning a plan for the revitalization of BWER, which once encompassed an approximately 2,000-acre expanse of marshes, mud flats, salt pans and sand dunes that stretched from Playa del Rey to Venice and inland to the Baldwin Hills. Today, the reserve’s 577 acres are all that remains of the former wetlands. The state acquired the reserve in 2003 with the use of $149 million in Proposition 50 funds.
The ecosystem at BWER is considered one of the last remaining opportunities for major coastal habitat restoration in Los Angeles County. Ecological components of the project include enhancing and restoring 200 acres of coastal wetlands, relocating existing levees to reconnect Ballona Creek to its historic floodplain, improving tidal circulation into the reserve, and restoring estuarine aquatic and upland habitats.
In addition to combating climate change and protecting biodiversity, the project will help achieve equity and access to natural spaces for residents and visitors, consistent with another Newsom Administration priority. It is estimated that well over 90 percent of wetlands in the region have been lost to development and human alteration. Once restored, BWER will be one of the largest natural open spaces available to the public in the City of Los Angeles, second only to Griffith Park. The project will now proceed toward final design. CDFW will work with the Los Angeles County Flood Control District in securing a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and completing a federal environmental review document, a process expected to take approximately two and a half years. In addition, approvals from the Coastal Commission, Regional Water Quality Control Board and possibly other agencies are required, and the timing of those approvals depends on the permitting agency’s process. As CDFW continues through the next steps of these processes, CDFW’s vision for BWER will remain the same – a restored, healthy wetlands that provides greater sea level rise buffer and climate resiliency, with equity and access to natural open spaces.