2017-01-06 / Front Page
Creek restoration could ease fire danger
Nonprofit seeks to remove reed from Arroyo Simi
Behind the 250-home park on Arroyo Drive runs the Arroyo Simi creek and watershed, and just past that are several hundred acres of undeveloped land preserved as wilderness by the county’s open-space ordinance.
Villa Del Arroyo residents, a mix of retirees and young families, call it their “million-dollar view,” said Pam Jordan, who has lived there for 19 years.
When Jordan first moved in, the landscape around the arroyo was even more spectacular, she said.
The little beach is gone now, covered over long ago by an invasive reed that grows in dense clumps at a rate of 2 feet a week (4 inches a day), reaching to 30 feet tall in summer months.
A menace to the Golden State’s rivers and watersheds since it arrived here more than a century ago, the Arundo donax, or giant reed, takes over wherever it grows, displacing native habitats and wildlife, soaking up precious groundwater, reducing the size of rivers and streams, and increasing flood and fire hazards.
For years, the risk that a summer blaze could break out in the thick arundo groves around the Arroyo Simi directly behind their homes was a big concern for Villa Del Arroyo residents, Jordan said.
“We had talked about removing it, but the costs were so excessive,” she said.
City officials couldn’t help because the land is owned by the county.
But now, financed by a $198,500 grant from Cal Fire, a private, nonprofit habitat restoration organization will begin removing 10 acres of the giant reed from behind the mobile home park next month.
“We’re just thrilled,” Jordan said.
Resource Conservation Partners Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the county’s watersheds and wildlife areas, will get a share of $15.7 million in fire prevention and tree mortality grants that Cal Fire is distributing in 2017 to 172 nonprofit organizations and government agencies.
If permits can be obtained from the different regulatory agencies in time, the Venturabased nonprofit will use about $100,000 of the funding to buy a skid steer, a type of tractor, and begin mulching up the pesky plant in February, said Sally Coleman, the group’s executive director.
“The property is owned by Ventura County Watershed Protection District, so we’re working with them on the permitting,” she said. “All of this is highly regulated activity because there are native species and wildlife of concern in that area as well. They want to make sure that we’re really careful. And we’re used to this, because of the work we do.”
The goal is to remove the reed “to whatever degree we possibly can before the next fire season,” Coleman said, adding that work crews will likely have to return at least two more times during the year.
“The thing with arundo is it’s not easily killed. It takes several treatment events. So we’ll be going back out there,” she said.
‘Little stream of Simi’
Originating in Corriganville Park near the Santa Susana Pass, the Arroyo Simi, Spanish for “little stream of Simi,” runs east to west through Simi Valley before going into Moorpark.
Most of the creek is a concrete-lined channel until it reaches the west end of Simi Valley, just beyond Madera Road, where the arroyo becomes an earthen channel. Long stretches of the riverbed are hidden beneath thickets of the giant reed.
“What happens is it makes the flood plain really narrow and deeply incised,” Coleman said. “It also gets uprooted easily during a flood event. It can get jammed up against a bridge abutment or in culverts, so it’s a huge flooding hazard to begin with.”
The reed can spread fires. Before the plant arrived, the county’s rivers and streams acted as natural fire barriers, Coleman said.
“But now with this arundo creating such a deeply incised channel, it creates a bridge for fire,” she said. “And it burns really, really hot.”
Older mobile homes built before 1970, when stricter federal construction standards were imposed, can catch fire more quickly than conventional homes, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
At Villa Del Arroyo, homes “are in super-close proximity to a riparian corridor that has 70 percent arundo, which puts them at a substantial risk,” Coleman said.
“So we proposed the removal project to Cal Fire. They saw the merits of that, and they awarded us the grant,” she said.
The project in Moorpark complements restoration work the group recently completed further up the arroyo, where volunteers removed nonnative plants and planted native vegetation along 54 acres near the Simi Valley city border.
Coleman’s group has also applied for grants from the state Wildlife Conservation Board and the state Urban Rivers program to remove the giant reed from another 48 acres of the Arroyo Simi within the City of Simi Valley and adjacent to the 54 acres it recently restored on county land.
“So we’re actively trying to restore a 102-acre corridor in the Arroyo Simi because there is a significant amount of water there, which is kind of unusual for a lot of our rivers and streams in Ventura County. So it’s a really important area for us,” Coleman said.
The restoration work also fits in with Simi Valley’s ongoing Arroyo Simi Greenway revitalization project to improve an existing 1.5-mile, unpaved maintenance road along the south side of the Arroyo Simi, between Madera Road and First Street.
That project includes construction of a roughly half-mile trail along Fifth Street between Los Angeles and Royal avenues, connecting the greenway to Sinaloa Middle School.
Once the reed is removed from the arroyo, hikers along the new trails will find a very changed landscape, Coleman said.
“People will be able to see the oak trees and the sycamore trees, the native bushes and things,” she said. “If people are on this new greenway trail all along that corridor, and we’ve opened up that whole channel and removed all the nonnatives, and people can actually see the trees and they can see the water and they can see the wildlife, I think it will have a tremendous value to the community.”