Diamond in the Rough

Machado Lake is most famous for being the former home of Reggie the Gator. But in the water quality world, the lake is better known as one of the most polluted bodies of water in the L.A. region, with trash, nutrient, legacy pesticide and contaminated sediment problems.

Last week, the city of Los Angeles hosted a tour of the Proposition O-funded Machado Lake project. Tucked away off the Harbor Freeway between Harbor College and the Conoco Phillips refinery, this valuable lake-freshwater marsh system spreads over 40 acres at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park. It serves as one of the last remaining coastal wetlands in Los Angeles County.

In an effort to revive this critical watershed, the regional water board has already developed trash and nutrient total maximum daily loads (enforceable water body specific standards). The city is now undertaking a massive and ambitious $117 million restoration to rehabilitate the degraded park and comply with the Clean Water Act.  The Machado Lake project is one of the cornerstones of the Proposition O pollution abatement program, along with Echo Park Lake and the beach water quality projects along Santa Monica Bay.

Martin Byhower, a local resident, longtime environmentalist and Audubon leader, has been advocating for lake and wetland restoration at Machado for well over a decade. The promise of expanding habitat for endangered species like the Least Bell’s Vireo and rare Willow Flycatcher is extremely high. The Wilmington community has also expressed strong support.

However, the project will be extremely difficult to implement and won’t be completed until 2014. Components of the project include trash capture devices, pocket treatment wetlands, sedimentation basins, floating islands for nutrient uptake, exotic plant removal and native planting, lake dredging and improved water circulation. Machado Lake receives polluted runoff from over 20 square miles of highly urbanized land, including the Wilmington Drain.

Completing a massive facelift, restoration and nutrient reduction effort at a very shallow, warm-water lake with poor water circulation poses unprecedented challenges for the city. Although Machado Lake has incredible potential, Ken Malloy Park is in a dire state of disrepair. A 50-acre plus parcel in the southeast corner is filled with dumped soil and every non-native plant you can think of. The impenetrable thicket could be restored as new wetland habitat.

City officials definitely have their work cut out for them. I strongly encourage the public to get involved in the planning process, which begins in October. Here are the meeting schedules.

It’s a real chance for the public to shape an ecosystem restoration-water quality improvement project of unparalleled scope in Los Angeles.

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