Dominguez Wetlands offers views of natural riparian habitat

Staff Writer

People who love to walk on nature trails alongside small, quiet bodies of water will enjoy the recently opened Dominguez Gap Wetlands. This small, restored wildlife habitat area adjacent to the Los Angeles River offers local residents the chance to experience the flora and fauna one might expect to find in a wilderness.
Last Sunday, the Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance (WANA) sponsored a hike through the 50-acre wetlands. Nearly 30 people strolled on the trail that winds alongside one of the bodies of water. Three naturalists took turns describing various aspects of the recently restored wetlands They included David and Bob Sundstrom, members of the South Coast Chapter of the Native Plant Society, and Joe Linton, author of Down By The Los Angeles River.
David Sundstrom was the key speaker. “This is one of 27 so-called spreading grounds (adjacent to the river),” he said. “The idea is that in the event of an extraordinary amount of rainfall, this could alleviate neighborhood flooding.” He explained that if there were ever a cataclysmic rainfall, some runoff would be channeled into the spreading grounds instead of directly into the river. “According to the engineers that I talked to, this feature has never been filled and it’s not intended to be filled,” Sundstrom said. “If there is a 100-year event with enough localized rainfall, and potential flooding, it could conceivably get filled.” He acknowledged that if that ever happened, it would be very damaging to the multi-purpose habitat.
Sundstrom noted that it would take 10 million cubic feet of water to fill Dominguez Gap. “That sounds like a lot,” he said. “But it turns out that during a storm event, about 146,000 cubic feet of water per second flows through the river, which means this spreading ground could be filled by the Los Angeles River in 69 seconds. It’s obviously not designed to reduce the flow of the river, but to alleviate local floods.”
Dominguez Gap has been in its present configuration for about 50 years. “About 10 years ago, serious discussion began about turning this into a neighborhood resource instead of a forbidden zone,” Sundstrom noted. “When I first observed it from riding my bike along the trail up here, it was just this big dirt ditch.” He explained that for many years county crews sprayed the area with herbicides to stop the growth of vegetation that might cause floodwaters to back up.
About 10 years ago, local residents and Los Angeles County officials began planning to convert the ditch into a natural wetlands habitat. The project was primarily designed and undertaken by the county department of public works.
The water that now flows into the Dominguez Gap Wetlands is diverted from the Los Angles River close to Del Amo Boulevard at about three cubic feet per second, which amounts to about 1.3 million gallons flowing in and out of the wetlands every day. The wetlands is divided into two sections. The first section is just under a mile long and encompasses 37 acres. Another 13 acres is in the west basin, which is not open to the public yet. The wetlands is on county-owned land. Sundstrom pointed to an adjacent parcel owned by the City of Long Beach that naturalists hope will one day become part of the project with its own separate pond.
Approximately 1.5 million square feet of land on the slopes above the water were planted with 50,000 plants from one-gallon containers. Other areas were treated with hydro seeding. The goal is to cover the slopes with natural riparian vegetation whose root system will prevent the area from being taken over by invasive weeds. Sundstrom noted that a landscape maintenance company under contract with the county has employees pulling out weeds by hand on a regular basis in order to allow the riparian plants to establish themselves. Those plants include goldfields, tidytips, baby blue eyes, owl clover, purple lupine, deer weed, and coastal sage shrub.
Bob Sundstrom noted that more and more animal species are moving into the wetlands, attracted by the water as well as the proliferation of plant life in what was once a barren ditch. Those who attended the Sunday stroll noticed gold finches (songbirds that are cousins of the canary), ducks, red-winged black birds and one turtle. The Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly, which almost became extinct a few years ago, is also beginning to thrive in the area. Deer weed is its primary source of food.
The project cost about $7 million, which came from bond measures approved by state voters to fund park development.
“I have never seen so much color,” said Maria Norvell, WANA vice president. “Oh, my gosh, it’s just beautiful.”
WANA President Jill Hill agreed. “When you enter the wetlands, it’s a vision that you would never expect to see in this area,” she said. “Coming into it, it looks like a trail, but once you enter and you see all the wildflowers, the water and the birds, it’s unbelievable.”
On May 8, at 7:45 a.m., Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe and several City of Long Beach officials will preside over the Dominguez Gap Wetlands official grand opening ceremony. To get to the wetlands, head west on San Antonio Drive past Long Beach Boulevard and turn right on Del Mar Avenue. Go to 4062 Del Mar and look for the gate on the left side of the street. For more information, phone (626) 458-4335.

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