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West Valley Focus

CALABASAS : Neighbors Worry About Dry Wetland

September 09, 1993|KURT PITZER

A development company and the Army Corps of Engineers have allowed an artificially fed wetland in Calabasas to dry up almost completely, raising concerns among some neighbors that the remaining animals and birds that drink at the small marsh will be forced out of the area.

Ahmanson Land Co., which agreed to maintain the wetland in exchange for a permit from the Army Corps to develop around it, stopped pumping water to the area in August for three weeks, saying a massive algae bloom threatened the cottonwoods, willows and reeds there. The wetland runs along about 100 yards next to Las Virgenes Road, north of the Ventura Freeway, said Ahmanson spokeswoman Mary Trigg.

Since then, the wetland has shrunk to two small patches of standing water. It may dry up more because the land is irrigated only one week each month until the rainy season, said John Gil, chief of the Army Corps' regulatory branch, which enforces maintenance of the wetland.

Gil said the Corps agreed to let the patch dry somewhat, because the plants are expected to survive. And although conditions of the Corps' permit require Ahmanson to pump water to the marsh as long as the underground stream is flowing, the need to protect vegetation from the algae has priority.

But neighbors are concerned that wildlife populations along Las Virgenes Creek, which was mostly covered when Ahmanson graded the area for commercial use, will dwindle even further.

"We used to have rabbits, possum, squirrels, we had the California road runner, and you could sometimes see deer," said resident Louis Gregorio. "There still are a few animals that use the wetlands as a drinking place. But where are they going to go when it dries up? Out on the street?"

The Army Corps' directions for maintaining the patch of wetlands don't include the protection of animals and birds, Gil said.

Army Corps Project Manager Elizabeth Varnhagen, who helped draft the permit for covering the stream in 1989, said many of the animals may shy away from the spot as Ahmanson builds several more commercial buildings east of the wetland.

"Ultimately, the animals are going to have fewer and fewer places to go, because they're going to feel trapped," Varnhagen said. "This is really the problem that we anticipated all along: You just can't maintain an artificial wetland like it exists in nature."

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