Caring for Aliso Creek

Aliso Creek, which runs through our community and is most visible in Aliso Park, is a popular place for residents to walk and enjoy a bit of nature. Many days you can see ducks and other birds enjoying the running water and the shelter provided by the many trees that run along its banks.

While it is a place of joy for many, it has become a source of consternation for some and a source of conspiracy theories and disinformation for others. 

Group Management

Years ago, the creek was highly visible, and turf ran right to its edge, with little or no vegetation along its banks. All that changed in 2014. Why? The creek area is considered a natural riparian habitat, making it subject to myriad government regulations. These regulations require the streambed to remain “natural,” with native vegetation allowed to grow undisturbed along its length.

In 2014, the Golden Rain Foundation of Laguna Woods (GRF) entered into a streambed alteration agreement with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to construct a replacement pedestrian bridge located in Aliso Park. The creek area is subject to the regulations put forth by several government agencies, with CDFW being the lead agency. The agreement requires annual biological monitoring of an area approximately 200 yards directly downstream of the bridge.

Streambed Alteration Agreement Details

The streambed alteration agreement stipulates that creek monitoring shall continue for a minimum of five years and continue until GRF meets success criteria set forth in the agreement. 

We are now in the sixth year of monitoring; during the first several years, the area was decimated by seasonal flooding. Once streambed alteration agreement criteria are met, the biologist monitoring is no longer required, but the prescribed maintenance must continue in perpetuity. 

Guidelines are set by the regulating agencies that govern when and how maintenance activities can occur within the limits of the creek bed. Staff can remove litter and invasive weeds by hand from the banks and adjacent areas year-round. Work within the creek bed, such as removing native growth such as cattails, can only occur outside of the typical bird mating season, which runs from February 1 to August 31.

Protected Creatures

The area also is natural habitat to southwestern pond turtles (SPT), which are considered threatened. Prior to performing any maintenance activities in the creek bed, a survey must be performed by a wildlife biologist to determine the presence of SPT. Any maintenance work must not have any negative impact on the SPT habitat.

When the SPT survey this year was conducted by Endemic Environmental Services Inc., two nonnative turtles were found along with a single SPT—the first year that an SPT was discovered in the creek. Per the agreement, the nonnative turtles were removed from the habitat. 

The Southwestern Pond Turtle Avoidance and Mitigation Plan for Laguna Woods document was prepared and submitted to CDFW for review. 

Cattail Cuts

Once review of the Southwestern Pond Turtle Avoidance and Mitigation Plan was completed and approved, VMS staff began the annual removal of cattails from the creek bed. 

Cattail removal is limited to cutting by hand, without disturbing the stream bed, and the cattails may not be cut lower than one foot above the waterline. Once the removal work is complete, staff will maintain the area until the beginning of mating season, when work must stop.

Meanwhile, VMS staff continues to work with regulatory agencies and wildlife biologists to ensure compliance with the regulations and find ways to make the creek more aesthetically pleasing to residents.

This article first appeared in the February/March 2021 edition of the Village Breeze. 

Read More About the Creek

To learn more about how the Landscaping Services Department protects Aliso Creek and keeps it a habitat for wildlife, read “Our Beloved Creek” on page 28 of the August/September 2021 Village Breeze. Click here to view the story

To learn more about the SPT, read “A New Guest in the Village” on page 53 in the February/March 2021 Village Breeze. Click here to view the story

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