A nature pond established 40 years ago by the City of Los Angeles is drying up, to the protests of Chatsworth activists. The pond is the latest victim of a changing balance between saving wildlife and saving water.
In the past, the pond, home to more than 200 species of birds, has grown and shrunk as rain has fallen, or as the city of Los Angeles has supplemented the pond with fresh drinking water. Since drought was declared last year, the DWP has turned off the tap.
The decision has been protested by the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society, which has collected data about birds at the pond for more than 50 years. Audubon's Mark Osokow agrees that drought makes cutbacks necessary, but claims DWP's present policy is extreme. "We've had droughts before," Osokow said. "But we haven't had this situation where DWP decided it was going to cut off water 100%."
Osokow and Fisher are part of a local coalition that says history and the well being of wildlife obligate the city of L.A. to protect the pond.
Since the mid-1970s, a pipe from the LA Department of Water and Power has helped the Chatsworth Ecology Pond grow; recently, it's been a couple of acres big. Now egrets and migrating birds splash in two puddles a few feet across. Cracked and deep, silty mud called "treacherous" by activists surrounds those puddles. Scattered across the dried pond bed are pieces of wood on which naturalists walked to rescue turtles.
"The problem is right in front of our eyes, the pond is dying," Dina Fisher said. Fisher is a neighbor to the pond. She observed it from an overlook across the street, off the 118 freeway.
"I love seeing the birds get access to a little bit of water, trust me, but this is not enough," said Fisher.
In 1974, LA's chief engineer for water, Charles Lane, told state fish and wildlife managers the city was establishing the pond "to enhance … habitat for migratory waterfowl."
Caption: Dina Fisher, a local resident observes the remaining birds at the Chatsworth Nature Preserve Ecology Pond on Thursday, July 16, 2015. Fisher has been active in the push to have the ecology pond replenished since the DWP shut off its water supply earlier this year. Photo: Susanica Tam for KPCC
But the LADWP’s Anselmo Collins says not anymore.
"In our mind, it was an experimental pond, but it wasn’t necessarily going to be a permanent thing," said Collins. Collins points out that in that same 1974 letter establishing the pond, his predecessor wrote that DWP intended for the pond to exist until "overriding water system requirements necessitate its modification or termination."
Water system requirements are changing, and LA has a new goal to strengthen its local water supplies. The pond was supposed to be "self-sustaining;" changing conditions might prevent that in the future. The simple fact, he said, is that every drop counts.
"We are in the fourth year of a severe drought," said Collins. "Times have changed. We’re asking everybody to conserve, starting with ourselves."
DWP says it's weighing other pond sources; it could come from groundwater supplies, or from stormwater, if the site were re-graded to improve capture. The DWP will hold a public meeting August 6 to discuss these and other options with the community.