Removing arundo may get easier in Ventura County

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Sometimes environmental regulations make good environmental projects more difficult.

For example, everyone agrees that the giant reed, or arundo donax, should be removed from our rivers, but every removal project requires significant permissions.

Now that is about to change.

To cut the green tape preventing the cutting of giant reed stems, the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, in partnership with the Ventura County Resource Conservation District, secured a grant from Cal Fire to create programmatic permits. These permits will allow the Conservation District to serve as a sponsoring agency, an umbrella organization overseeing reed removal projects organized by conservation and others.

The giant reed is an invasive alien plant that crowds out native vegetation. It eliminates habitat for local species, presents a fire hazard when dry, and sucks up more than five times the water consumed by the typical riparian plants it replaces.

Organizations such as the Army Corps of Engineers, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service, State Water Board, Ventura County Watershed Protection District, and others regulate how the plant can be removed .

Of course, these requirements have valid purposes. The reed grows to 30 feet tall and improper cutting for removal can cause roots and stems to sink downstream. There, the invading pieces establish new colonies, sometimes becoming so thick that they alter the course of waterways.

The simple act of sending workers into a stream bed to prevent regrowth by removing deep roots can alter the course of a stream. Alteration of watercourses can alter water flows and flood regimes.

Other concerns include habitat. Although the giant reed does not provide habitat for native species—apart from occasionally being selected as a well-protected, long-term campsite for some humans—nesting sites are sometimes found in nearby vegetation. Noise and vibration during nesting seasons can harm wildlife.

Even the disposal of reed pieces is a difficult matter. Because the pieces can regrow, cut reeds cannot be discarded with other garden waste and made into mulch. It should either be buried or cut into small pieces and dried before using as mulch, with continuous monitoring to ensure there are no new shoots.

More than 600 California Lutheran University students remove huge amounts of arundo, or giant reed, along the Ventura River in 2016. Reed removal projects could get easier with new permit option .

The Resource Conservation District programmatic permit will cover these concerns and more. The district has oversight responsibilities to ensure projects meet environmental standards.

Entities that organize under the auspices of the district include not only nonprofit organizations, but also entities such as the Flood Control Division of the Ventura County Public Works Agency. As a condition of permit, the division removes invasive plants and restores native habitats as mitigation compensation for natural habitats impacted by flood control projects.

Since the task of suppression is so massive and expensive, harnessing a profit motive for its suppression has always been a dream of business-minded environmentalists. In 1993, Nile Fiber, a Seattle-based company, harvested hundreds of tons of local giant reeds, dried the material, and sold it to paper mills experimenting with “treeless paper” alternatives. However, the business did not prove to be financially viable.

In the early 2000s, Floral Gift and Home Décor, a Somis-based company with a factory in Oxnard, experimented with using reeds as part of nationally distributed dried flower arrangements. Consumers rejected the different look of the new product.

Incentives available in the Ventura County Recycling Market Development Area, including loans funded at 4% interest, may be available for commercial businesses using the reed. Contact me for more information.

In the meantime, permission for reed eradication will become easier as part of programmatic permissions and related efforts.

On September 13, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors found that a planned reed removal project by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy was categorically exempt from California’s environmental quality law and approved the funding for the project by the County Fire Protection District with a $350,000 grant provided by Cal Fire.

Conservation will proceed, using the Watershed Protection District Streambed Alteration Agreement from state wildlife officials and a biological advisory from the Federal Wildlife Service.

The Resource Conservation District’s programmatic permit will be another step forward in narrowing the green band of environmental regulations.

“We have a programmatic permit for projects in the Santa Clara River, and soon we will have one for the Ventura River as well,” said Andy Spyrka, resource curator for the district.

To schedule a reed removal project, contact Spyrka at 805-764-5135.

David Goldstein, environmental resources analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or [email protected]

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