Army Corps Project in Aliso Creek

In late 2017, the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a proposed project in Aliso Creek. Based on the original Super Project concept, which was presented in the 1990s, this repair of Aliso Creek is far from the ecosystem restoration project it’s being advertised as.

Located within Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, the proposed project spans approximately five miles of Aliso Creek, stretching from the Ranch at Laguna Beach all the way to Pacific Park Drive in Aliso Viejo. This is the most natural and habitat-rich section of Aliso Creek, home to numerous sensitive, threatened and endangered species, like the southwestern pond turtle and least Bell’s vireo.

The Army Corps plan cites creek instability, utility line protection, floodplain hydrology and degraded riparian (river-adjacent) habitat as the rationale for its proposal. Unfortunately, their heavy-handed and outdated approach proposes to use heavy machinery to excavate, grade and recontour five miles of creek bed and creek banks. This would be followed by installation of engineered structures (grouted and ungrouted rock riffles and bank armoring) to control creek flows and raise the creek bed.

This project would:

  • Grade five miles of sensitive riparian habitat
  • Excavate 567,000 cubic yards of dirt from the creek (that’s 28,000 tractor trailers!)
  • Install 47 engineered rock rip-rap structures between 9inches and 6 feet in height
  • Armor several sections of bank with rock and steel piling
  • Dump 300,000 cubic yards of dirt inside Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park
  • Widen the creek profile and floodplain

We believe this project, as proposed, will have negative and entirely avoidable environmental impacts, and should be scaled back. Natural riparian habitat provides resources to support the highest level of wildlife biodiversity in Southern California, and should be kept intact. Natural waterways are dynamic and should be given the space to move and create side channels. Armoring the banks of soft-bottomed creeks locks in the creek’s pathway, while replacing dirt with cement and steel prevents plants from being able to grow along the creek channel – all at a great monetary cost. There is no need for a $100MM project that will destroy large amounts of scarce riparian habitat when less impactful and more affordable alternatives are available!

The Army Corps needs to look at current science, including updated biological studies, and modify this proposal. Aliso Creek has changed dramatically in the last two years, as Laguna Canyon Foundation has headed up the $6MM effort to remove invasive Arundo donax from the creekbanks. As this restoration project nears completion, the biology and hydrology of the creek have greatly improved. The Army Corps studies need to reflect the new conditions on the ground.

So what comes next? Laguna Canyon Foundation is working with the City of Laguna Beach to build a coalition of environmental organizations and municipalities that support a more measured approach to Aliso Creek. We’re working on developing a Locally Preferred Plan for the Army Corps to review, one that accomplishes the goals of infrastructure protection and creek bank instability, but does so in a more targeted, less impactful way.

The Army Corps’ next step is to have their EIR certified by the Orange County Board of Supervisors so that they can move forward. We’re hard at work on that Locally Preferred Plan, but we need your help. Please reach out to your Supervisor, and ask him or her not to certify the EIR. Instead, the Board of Supervisors needs to support a Locally Preferred Plan that costs less, protects our wilderness, and achieves the same goals.  Please take a moment to call, email or write your Supervisor today! Click here for contact information.

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