Dry Marsh Spells Relief R-A-I-N : Environment: This week's storm is helping to quench debate over Torrance wetlands.


A surprise rainstorm earlier this week dumped just enough water to dampen a smoldering political battle in Torrance over Madrona Marsh's future.

Despite Mother Nature's intervention, however, Torrance City Council members voted this week to let city officials add as much tap water to the parched marsh as it needs. The wetlands of Madrona Marsh haven't been very wet for about four years now, as the drought reduced green thickets of tule grass to tangled, gray stands of dead stems. Aquatic marsh plants have given way to carpets of common weeds. Nesting waterfowl, once a common sight, have flown elsewhere to raise their young.

But the heavy rain on Memorial Day weekend, which replenished a nearby drainage sump that supplies water to the marsh, may have at least delayed the need to dip into the potable water supply.

Plans by Torrance park administrators to release between two and four acre-feet of domestic drinking water into the marsh--an amount roughly equal to between 650,000 and 1.3 million gallons--were blocked last week by Councilman Dan Walker, who believes pouring water into a marsh during a drought sets a bad conservation example.

A week ago, workers started the project by pumping about 230,000 gallons into the marsh, an amount roughly equal to what two average Torrance households would use in a year. After Walker complained, the pumping abruptly was stopped to allow council members time to vote on the project.

During the hiatus, Mother Nature stepped in. "Somebody upstairs must have been looking out for us" by taking the water decision out of the hands of city officials "and putting it back with Mother Nature, where it belongs," Councilwoman Dee Hardison said.

Although city workers were unsure of just how much rain the sump captured over the weekend, Parks and Recreation Director Gene Barnett said he believes the runoff may be just what the vernal marsh needed. Such a marsh normally dries up during the hot summer months but is filled with water by fall, winter and spring storms. Madrona's wetlands were nearly dry last week.

"There may be a need in the future to add additional water," Barnett told the council this week, but because of the heavy rain Sunday night and Monday morning, the marsh and the sump may have received enough water.

Mayor Katy Geissert and other council members told the staff they should pump in all the water they believe is needed.

"When we accepted ownership, we accepted a tremendous stewardship to maintain the marsh as a natural area," Geissert said. "If you change the runoff patterns for a piece of land like that and then you are faced with a drought, very likely . . . you're going to have to give the marsh some help."

Walker complained that other alternatives, such as laying pipe for the use of reclaimed water or digging an on-site well, had not been thoroughly explored.

"The city can and will sustain the marsh, but I didn't think and I don't think that we should be utilizing city drinking water and taxpayers' funds to do it," he said.

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