Describing it as a major step toward cleansing one of Orange County’s most noxious urban waterways, politicians and government officials announced Wednesday an agreement between two federal agencies to aid cleanup of Aliso Creek.
The Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to work together to restore wildlife habitats along the southern Orange County creek and tackle the channel’s water-quality problems. The arrangement should speed the cleanup along, said Larry McKenney, manager of Orange County’s Resources and Development Management Department.
Aliso Creek stretches 19 1/2 miles from its headwaters in the Santa Ana Mountains to the ocean at Aliso Beach in Laguna Beach. The stream catches urban runoff laden with such pollutants as pesticides and pet waste from seven inland cities. Aliso Beach, at the receiving end, consistently earns failing grades for water quality.
County officials, who are heading the project, unveiled a rough sketch of their plans at a news conference at Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. In addition to poor water quality, there are other problems with the creek, most notably its penchant for flooding during heavy rains. That causes erosion, destroys habitats and swamps service roads alongside the creek.
To slow the water, the corps wants to build two dozen 2-foot-tall rock steps held together by a dirt and cement mixture. A plant to sanitize the water will be built near the bottom of the creek.
County officials stressed that the plans were preliminary, but some environmentalists were troubled that they weren’t told about them.
“They promised us we would have an opportunity to bring in our own scientists for a second opinion or a peer review for this super project. And -- wham, bam -- we have a press conference announcing it,” said Penny Elia, chairwoman of the Sierra Club’s Save Hobo Aliso Task Force.
Representatives from the Surfrider Foundation, another environmental group, said they were waiting for more information.
McKenney, the county official, said he wasn’t trying to cut environmentalists out of the process. They’ll have their chance to help draw up a more detailed design, he said. Public meetings begin next month.
The project, pending congressional approval, is expected to cost $45 million, with the corps probably covering more than $30 million.
Reaching a final design and obtaining local, state and federal permits to begin may take several years.