Restoration on the Otay River
By Irv Schiffman
As River Partners enters its fifteenth year as a leading provider of riparian restoration, it continues to expand its activities along California rivers while gaining the support of new partners.
During the past few years, we have increased our presence in the southern part of the state by planning and engaging in restoration work with a number of projects there. Several of these projects are located in the Otay River Watershed in southwest San Diego County, namely, the Otay River Delta project, the Rancho Jamul project which includes restoration sites at the Rancho Jamul Ecological Preserve and the Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area. Additionally, we have been awarded a grant from the California Department of Water Resources to begin work on the new project at Upper Otay Reservoir.
The new partners in these efforts are the City of San Diego Public Utilities Department, the San Diego Foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, Friends of the Otay Valley Regional Park and WILDCOAST, an international conservation group.
The Otay River Delta Habitat Restoration Project, located on the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, is designed to restore fifty acres of riparian habitat at the point where the Otay River reaches the San Diego Bay. The planting of 19,000 native trees, plants and grasses on the site will improve the quality and continuity of habitat for a variety of neo-tropical migratory and resident birds, including the listed Least Bell’s Vireo and California Gnatcatcher, raptors, as well as other native wildlife.
The completed project will be on view to passengers in the millions of cars annually that go directly by each day on Interstate Highway 5.
The Hollenbeck Canyon Wildlife Area was purchased by the Department of Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) in 2001 and serves as an ecological corridor connecting to the Department’s existing open space reserve (Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve) immediately to the west, and the BLM’s Otay Mountain Wildlife Management and Wilderness Area immediately to the south. Such corridors are essential to the bringing of a degree of cohesion to otherwise fragmented ecosystems. River Partners has begun work at the Hollenbeck site removing invasive species, creating a habitat restoration plan and contracting with a local native plant nursery to produce seedlings. Planting will begin in the spring of 2013. When completed, this site along with its twin, located on the Rancho Jamul Ecological Preserve, three miles to the west, will provide 178 acres of quality habitat, enhance biodiversity and serve the thirty threatened and endangered species that inhabit the watershed.
The Upper Otay Reservoir restoration project will be implemented in an area where rural San Diego County abruptly meets high density urban development. Urban runoff from landscaping and other urban water sources has significantly modified this part of the watershed’s hydrology. Additionally, chemicals in the runoff such as herbicides and fertilizers commonly used in landscape maintenance threaten the Upper Otay Reservoir – part of San Diego County’s emergency water supply.
Our Upper Otay project will benefit a number of endangered Neotropical migratory birds that use this area for range and nesting habitat, while at the same time enhancing recreational opportunities and source water protection of the reservoir.
The work of River Partners, begun some 15 years ago, spans 11 watersheds in California, including the Sacramento—San Joaquin River System, the Lower Colorado River, and, now San Diego’s Otay River Watershed. In the years ahead we look forward to expanding our efforts in the south state and continue to grow and maintain close relationships with new and old partners.
The above article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of the River Partners Journal.