Under an ambitious restoration project now being refined, the ecologically battered San Joaquin Marsh would be transformed within several years into an urban wildlife sanctuary.
Once renovated, the marsh, one of Southern California's largest freshwater wetlands, is expected to provide numerous species with much-needed habitat as well as offer the community an opportunity to view wildlife that thrives in a relatively rare environment, proponents of the plan said.
A preliminary proposal calls for the construction of channels, wells and levees to restore water to the marsh, a system to filter pollutants from runoff and the planting of willows and other native trees and grasses. The plan also includes hiking trails within the area for recreational use.
The area could be used "as an educational facility, to provide habitat and teach environmental values," said Peer Swan, president of the Irvine Ranch Water District.
"It would be a refuge for people in the middle of a highly urbanized area. I think this is incredibly important to the community. This will be a jewel in this community the people will love," Swan said.
The 580-acre project area--about 70% as big as New York's Central Park--is bounded roughly by Michelson Drive on the north, the San Diego Creek Channel on the east and south, and Carlson Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard on the west.
The area is populated by gopher snakes, raccoons, coyotes and 220 species of birds, including snowy egrets, red-tailed hawks and long-billed curlews, said Trude Hurd, spokeswoman for the Sea and Sage chapter of the National Audubon Society.
Ownership of the land is split among the Irvine Co., which holds 290 acres, the University of California, which controls 202 acres, and the Irvine Ranch Water District, which owns the rest, Swan said.
Since the mid-1980s, all three agencies, plus the city of Irvine, the California Coastal Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Department of Fish and Game and the Audubon Society, have been collaborating on the rehabilitation plan, Swan said.
Peter Hersh, Irvine's manager of planning services, said that representatives from all sides will meet Saturday to discuss what topics the environmental impact report should address.
Once that report is complete, perhaps in the spring, the agencies will use it as a guide to create a detailed restoration plan. Only then will officials be able to estimate the cost and duration of the project, which would be funded by a variety of sources, including the city, the Irvine Co., the Coastal Conservancy and local donations.
Hersh said: "We have no idea whether it would be in five or 10 years. Right now, money is tight, and it really depends on how much commitment people are willing to make."