Building with nature: Can reviving a marsh save this California town from sea level rise?
By Mark Lehner
February 10, 2016
When the late great John Muir first arrived in Muir Woods in Yosemite National Park, he wrote: “We are not building with nature. We are not looking to nature for our design, but to nature for our strength.”
It’s not that he thought of marsh land as “nature”.
Nor did he think of land reclamation projects as “design”.
Rather, he saw a place that had been overgrown by brush and vegetation, and he realized the land was being slowly eaten away by plants, and that, in a short amount of time, it would either be taken up by land, or it would wither and die.
The same view is held by environmentalists today. And, the same view is held by those who dream of using wetlands as a source of drinking water in some future, and who advocate draining wetlands for human use.
The water from wetlands comes from rainfall, rather than human use, and it has to be captured before it can be used.
The wetlands in the marsh along the Los Angeles River had been degraded by development for over a century. It was clear that if it were to remain healthy, the water needed to flow through the marsh was being extracted.
So, local environmentalists and government officials decided that the best course of action would be to remove the marsh and then re-plant it so that those wetlands could survive the future. The goal was to make the marsh less valuable for development, and more valuable for sustaining water flow to the Los Angeles River.
Local officials hoped the marsh would grow, and the river would be stronger for it.
The land along the Los Angeles River has overgrown with vegetation for decades, so much in fact that parts of the river itself had been designated “wetlands” under California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.
There was no way the area could be considered an “