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PROTECTING THE COAST

Pilot Project Aims to Restore Ecosystem

Ormond Beach effort will use brine from Oxnard's wastewater plant to help wetlands.

October 24, 2003|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

Rep. Lois Capps joined Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez on Thursday in unveiling a pilot wetlands restoration project at Ormond Beach that officials hope will revitalize the area's fragile ecosystem that provides habitat for a variety of migratory birds.

The $150,000 project will use brine collected from the city's wastewater treatment plant to help restore degraded wetlands.

If successful, the test program could be expanded to full-scale restoration of hundreds of acres of wetlands along the Ventura County coast.

"This program will help to rehabilitate and improve the Ormond Beach wetlands so they can once again thrive," Capps said during the morning ceremony that concluded with the symbolic release of monarch butterflies.

Environmentalists have been pushing for years for restoration of the Ormond Beach wetlands, which have shrunk from 1,000 acres to about 250 because of encroaching development and pollution.

Using state and federal grants, the city of Oxnard created the Groundwater Recovery Enhancement and Treatment Program, which includes both a desalination project and the wetlands restoration project.

Most coastal wetlands occur in estuaries where freshwater streams meet the sea, resulting in a mix of freshwater and sea water.

The brackish water from the city's wastewater plant, which is usually discharged into the ocean, is similar to the type found within such estuaries and therefore may be a suitable water source to help restore the wetlands, officials said.

For the pilot project, a dozen test areas, measuring about 1,000 square feet, have been set up to simulate salt marsh conditions.

Called wetland boxes, they contain aquatic vegetation and plants to emulate natural conditions. They are monitored to determine the effects from the discharged brine.

By comparing the water quality entering the wetland boxes with that of the water leaving the test areas, researchers can determine what effect certain plants in each system have on improving water quality.

During Thursday's ceremony, the director of the pilot project pointed out that plants in several of the test boxes were thriving.

"We're making sure that the plants like it," said Mark Wuttig. "As you can see, the plants are growing. They love this stuff."

Meanwhile, officials also unveiled the city's desalination project, another pilot program designed to test different treatment technologies for a planned $50-million regional desalination plant.

The plant would make brackish water drinkable and recycle wastewater for farm use to reduce pumping.

Oxnard officials said the facility would be able to recycle 1,000 to 1,500 acre-feet of waste water a year and purify at least 4,000 acre-feet of drinking water, thus reducing the city's dependence on expensive imported water.

Capps, whose district includes portions of Ventura County, said she planned to introduce legislation to allow the federal government to partner with Oxnard in the desalination project.

"This program will help the city of Oxnard make better use of the water it has, reduce the city's dependence on imported water and prevent dramatic increases in monthly water bills to citizens," she said.

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