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Aliso Creek to Open Up

VMS staff continues to work diligently with regulatory agencies and wildlife biologists to ensure compliance with regulations and to make Aliso Creek more aesthetically pleasing. The difficult issue is balancing creek area maintenance in a way that satisfies residents’ desires for greater visibility, more open water and avoiding disruption of protected natural habitat of many birds and wildlife.

Currently, cattails can only be trimmed via hand tools to one foot above the water line. We are not allowed to disturb the creek bed in any way. The cattails have dense subterranean rhizome systems (roots) that enable them to survive in low-water periods. These rhizomes are what enable the cattails to grow back so quickly after being trimmed. 

The 7-year-old agreement that permits maintenance work in the creek prohibits removal of native plant material; cattails are considered native. Last year, we received authorization to perform selective cattail removal an additional two times yearly beyond regular annual winter removals. The additional work periods must be preceded by a biologist survey for nesting wildlife.

Earlier this year VMS petitioned the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the lead regulatory agency, to allow us to permanently remove the cattails from the center of the creek, with the goal of creating a channel through the creek’s center. Creation of this channel will increase water flow, reduce stagnation and silt accumulation, allow wildlife greater access to open water and foraging opportunities, and reduce scouring from storms.

On August 2, 2022, staff received notification that most of the petition was approved. The approval states “Removal efforts shall be limited to the center portion of the channel invert and monitored by a qualified biologist to minimize impacts to nesting birds, southwestern pond turtle and other species that rely on the creek ... Only the center third portion of the creek may be treated and removed. Elimination of vegetation throughout the entire creek is not permitted.” 

With this recent approval, crews will start clearing the creek center in mid-August. Bird nesting season regulations generally restrict creek activity to avoid disrupting the natural habitat of many birds and wildlife. Under the recent authorization, prior to starting work, a wildlife biologist is required to survey the entire creek area and locate active nests or breeding ponds. Once these locations are noted, safety buffers are developed and crews can remove cattails from the remaining areas of the creek. A biologist is also required to monitor the work in progress to further ensure no habitat is disturbed.

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