Ormond Beach Wetlands Restoration Project
Ormond Beach is a 1,500-acre area composed of agriculture, industry, and wetlands. A two-mile-long beach extends from Port Hueneme to the northwestern boundary of Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station, which encompasses Mugu Lagoon. Although the wetlands have been drained, filled and degraded over the past century, this is one of the few areas in southern California with an intact dune-transition zone–marsh system. The Ormond Beach area hosts over 200 migratory bird species and more shorebird species are known to use Ormond Beach than any other site in Ventura County.
Ormond Beach is considered by wetland experts to be the most important wetland restoration opportunity in southern California.
Project Description and History
Ormond Beach is a 1,500-acre area composed of agriculture, industry, and wetlands. A two-mile-long beach extends from Port Hueneme to the northwestern boundary of Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station, which encompasses Mugu Lagoon.
Prior to development, the coast of Ventura was a vast complex of dunes, lakes, lagoons, and salt and freshwater marshes. From the Santa Clara River estuary to the beginning of Mugu Lagoon, it appears from historic maps that there were seven lagoons. Most have either disappeared, been severely degraded, or been converted to marinas or ports. Nevertheless, this is one of the few areas in southern California with an intact dune-transition zone–marsh system. Over 200 migratory bird species are reported for the Ormond Beach area, and more shorebird species are known to use Ormond Beach than any other site in Ventura County. Six threatened and endangered species and six species of concern have been identified on the former Edison site.
The Ormond Beach wetlands have been drained, filled, and degraded over the past century to accommodate agriculture and industrial uses. The wetlands at Ormond Beach once covered ap-proximately 1,100 acres; approximately 250 acres remain. The lagoons have been used as a city dump, developed with a magnesium smelting plant and with the electrical generating plant, and drained for agriculture. Drainage and developments, including the naval air station, have left the Ormond Beach wetlands hydrologically isolated and significantly reduced in size. The remaining wetlands on site are degraded from compaction due to human use and dumping, contaminated from runoff, and suffering from hypersalinity due to lack of flushing
For the last three decades, there have been numerous proposals for marinas, theme parks, resorts, and residences in and adjoining the remnant wetlands. Each of the development proposals for Ormond Beach failed. During the 1990s, the Conservancy worked with the City, the community, and the landowners of Ormond Beach to extinguish lots on the beach, prepare a plan for restoration of the remnant wetlands on the Edison property, and develop a consensus plan for development and wetland restoration on the private lands there.
Ormond Beach is considered by wetland experts to be the most important wetland restoration opportunity in southern California. Unlike other coastal wetland restoration projects in southern California, there is room to restore the approximate extent of historic wetlands, provide surrounding upland habitat to complete the ecosystem and accommodate sea level rise. The biological significance of this area has been recognized and its restoration potential endorsed by all of the federal and state resource agencies that participate in the Southern California Wetlands Recovery Project. With their support and the unanimous support of the County of Ventura and the City of Oxnard, the Conservancy is pursuing acquisition at Ormond Beach with a goal of acquiring at least 900 acres at Ormond Beach to accommodate wetland and other habitat needs and at the same time complement the City’s goal to complete development of the south Oxnard community. Acquisition and restoration of these properties could at least triple the extent of habitat at Ormond Beach.
A critical mass of restored wetlands and associated habitat at Ormond Beach is expected to create a self-sustaining biological system and enough tidal prism and flushing action to maintain health and hydrologic function. Anticipated restoration at Ormond Beach would include modifications of the site hydrology to restore tidal action and bring back freshwater flows that had formerly drained across the Oxnard Plain to the coastal wetlands. When integrated with the adjoining 900 acres of freshwater wetlands and the 1,500 acres at Mugu Lagoon, this could be the largest coastal wetland in southern California, spanning nine miles of the coast from Point Hueneme to Point Mugu.
In June 2002, the Conservancy acquired the first property, 265 acres including a former tank farm site, from Southern California Edison. The Conservancy at its October, 2003, meeting reserved funds for acquisition of an additional 500 acres as proposed by staff. The City of Oxnard and the Metropolitan Water District owned 276 acres of degraded wetlands and agricultural land (former wetlands and associated habitat) adjoining the above acquisition. In June, 2005, the Conservancy gave a grant of $13 million to the Nature Conservancy to acquire the MWD property to hold and manage it until restoration plans are complete. The total currently acquired is 540 acres. The Conservancy is also awaiting the acquisition of the adjoining 340 acres of former wetlands that are currently owned and farmed by Southland Sod.
The Conservancy has funded a restoration feasibility study for Ormond Beach and adjoining wetlands that shows how this area could be restored and linked hydrologically and as an ecosystem. The consultant team hired by the Coastal Conservancy included Aspen Environmental, Philip Williams Assoc., Wetland Research Associates, and Everest Consultants, a consortium of the most experienced wetland restoration experts in California. The study includes consultant recommendations that address habitat needs of the coastal landscape ecosystem, habitat needs of special status species, water supply and quality issues, mitigation of contaminants, wetland restoration alternatives, priority and timing of restoration activities, public access and interpretive center opportunities, and costs for restoration and management.
The Coastal Conservancy is also currently engaged in public access planning with the assistance of the Cal Poly Pomona Graduate School of Landscape Architecture and the Nature Conservancy and is initiating a series of site-specific descriptive and experimental studies with Cal State Channel Islands to insure that key species will thrive at Ormond Beach when restoration begins.