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Winners Announced in Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve Photo Contest

Amateur photographers turned their lenses on skies and streams, coyotes and cactus, and overlooked details in nature to produce seven winning images in the 15th annual Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve photo contest. The winners were announced at the Olivenhain Municipal Water District February 2022 board meeting.

The seven photos are now on display in the Elfin Forest Interpretive Center Honoring Susan J. Varty through April 30, 2022. The Escondido Creek Conservancy contributed printing services to showcase one of the North County’s favorite hiking spots.

The contest’s goal is to promote the importance of open space and wildlife habitat preservation. Talented amateur photographers get an opportunity to share images of the natural beauty protected at EFRR through a partnership between OMWD, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the San Diego County Water Authority.

Supporting the mission to protect natural resources

 “In the Details” by Christie Lothrop wins the "Plants" category. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District winners announced

“In the Details” by Christie Lothrop wins the “Plants” category. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Contest entries assist in educating the public on local recreational opportunities and support EFRR’s mission to protect wildlife and natural resources.

“I think we have all come to appreciate the outdoors and nature a little more during the pandemic,” said OMWD Vice President Kristie Bruce-Lane. “The beautiful scenes depicted in these winning photos shine a light on the importance of open space so that future generations can experience and enjoy it.”

Winners were selected in five categories: Scenic View, Water Scenery, Plants, Animals, and Youth (under age 15). The public also selected a “People’s Choice” award winner by voting for their favorite among 12 entries posted on EFRR’s Facebook page. One photo received the “Best In Show” designation as the top photo.

This year’s photo contest winners

“Serenity” by Peter Montgomery is the 2022 Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve Photo Content "Best in Show." Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

“Serenity” by Peter Montgomery is the 2022 Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve Photo Contest “Best in Show.” Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

 

The Scenic View category winner is “Above the Fog” by Brandon McDonald. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

 

Brandon McDonald won in a second category with "Morning Reflections" for Water Scenery. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District winners announced

Brandon McDonald won in a second category, Water Scenery, with “Morning Reflections.” Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

 

These cuddling canines won the Animal category with “Reservoir Dogs Sleeping” by CJ Edingfield-Murphy. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

 

 “Cactus” by Ashley Hahlen is the Youth category winner for photographers under age 15. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District winners announced

“Cactus” by Ashley Hahlen is the Youth category winner for photographers under age 15. Photo: Olivenhain Municipal Water District

Photographers received prizes including San Diego Zoo tickets, a 24″ x 36″ canvas print donated by PC Photo & Imaging, outdoor equipment donated by REI, and a $100 cash prize donated by Escondido Creek Conservancy.

The interpretive center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., subject to docent availability.

EFRR offers approximately 11 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails, as well as picnic areas and scenic mountain viewing points. Open daily from 8 a.m. to approximately thirty minutes before sunset, EFRR is located at 8833 Harmony Grove Road in Escondido. Admission and parking are free. More information is available on its website.

(Editor’s note: The Olivenhain Municipal Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)

California Spent Decades Trying to Keep Central Valley Floods at Bay. Now It Looks to Welcome Them Back

Land and waterway managers labored hard over the course of a century to control California’s unruly rivers by building dams and levees to slow and contain their water. Now, farmers, environmentalists and agencies are undoing some of that work as part of an accelerating campaign to restore the state’s major floodplains.

Managed Marsh-trees-Imperial Valley-Salton Sea

Nine-Thousand Trees For Salton Sea Wildlife Marsh Habitat

Nine-thousand trees, mostly willows, are being planted in the 1,000 acre Managed Marsh wildlife habitat in northern Imperial County.

The planting is part of  the final construction phase of the Managed Marsh, located off Highway 111 between the city of Calipatria and Niland.

Funded by the Quantification Settlement Agreement Joint Powers Authority (QSA JPA), the habitat, located close to the Salton Sea, is a key environmental mitigation project to serve the needs of wildlife that depend on area surface drains in the Imperial Valley. With the planting of the 9,000 trees now underway, the Managed Marsh will be completed by early 2022.

Formed under 2003 legislation to administer the funding of environmental mitigation requirements related to the QSA water transfers, the QSA JPA is comprised of the Imperial Irrigation District, San Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Salton Sea Restoration Projects

As part of the legislation (specifically Senate Bill (SB) 654), the three water agencies of the QSA JPA have a responsibility to fund environmental mitigation projects related to the QSA up to $133 million in 2003 dollars (or $288 million in nominal dollars). The state has the responsibility to cover mitigation costs that exceed the $133 million mark and to address the larger issue of restoration at the Salton Sea. However, the three water agencies also have paid a combined $30 million in 2003 dollars (or $67 million in nominal dollars) as seed money for restoration, which was provided to CDFW as part of the Salton Sea Restoration Fund.

Nine-Thousand Trees for Wildlife in Managed Marsh

The Managed Marsh, built by IID as the implementing arm of the QSA JPA, was funded as part of the $133 million covered by the three water agencies. The project has been constructed over three phases, each 300 acres of marsh, with phase one completed in 2009 in and phase two in 2014. Phase three, the final stage, began last year when as many as 6,000 trees were planted. In total, once the Managed Marsh is completed, the entire facility will consist of more than 17,000 trees as well as wetlands, providing a habitat for more than 60 species of birds and other wildlife.

Public Resource

For years, the Managed Marsh has been open to the public, providing a resource for bird-watching enthusiasts and trail hikers. The facility also is an educational resource for area schools that have used the facility for field trips.

Since the QSA JPA was formed, it has been actively implementing mitigation projects in line with the QSA’s environmental permits, with much of that effort focused on the Salton Sea. For the first 15 years, the QSA JPA funded a fallowing program in the Imperial Valley that provided about 800,000 acre-feet of water to the Salton Sea, both to maintain salinity levels and to give the state time to begin a restoration program. At the same time, the QSA JPA implemented additional projects, like the Managed Marsh, in its ongoing efforts to address environmental mitigation.

Along with working toward the completion of the Managed Marsh, since 2018, the QSA JPA has focused on providing more permanent on-the-ground projects at the Sea, meant to address air quality impacts, including completing nearly 3,000 acres of surfacing roughening projects, with another 7,000 acres in development, growing vegetation, and supporting the reclamation of exposed playa for agricultural development where possible.

The QSA JPA will also be funding a groundwater pilot project as a potential water source for habitat development at the Salton Sea. While separate from the state’s Salton Sea Management Program, these are projects that work hand in hand with restoration in a collaborative effort.

Teams from Unified Command Test Water, Soil at San Onofre in Response to OC Oil Spill

Officials said Sunday that no oiled wildlife has been located in San Diego County from last weekend’s massive oil spill off the coast of Orange County.

Meanwhile, San Diegans can expect to see shoreline cleanup assessment teams and contracted crews in protective gear monitoring, inspecting and cleaning San Diego County beaches.

In Response to Western Drought, a Flood of Legislation

Las Vegas visitors can still snap selfies with the mermaids swimming among tropical fish in the Silverton Casino’s massive aquarium and gaze at the colorful dancing water displays of the iconic Bellagio fountains — for now.

But southern Nevada and much of the American West are struggling to cope with a worsening drought that has strained municipal water supplies, agricultural operations and wildlife populations.

California’s Drought and Wildfire Dangers Rising at Stunning Pace

California’s drought and wildfire conditions are accelerating at unprecedented rates, according to state officials, and residents should brace for a summer of widespread burning and mandatory water conservation measures in some regions.

As reservoir levels across the state continue to drop, and as parched vegetation poses an increasing threat of wildfire, officials in Sacramento and Southern California offered a bleak assessment of the state’s drying climate, saying it has already begun to affect people, plants and animals.

Sweetwater Authority Reservoirs Provide Safe Public Recreation

One year into the coronavirus pandemic, San Diego County’s reservoirs and lakes have provided welcome opportunities for safe, accessible outdoor family recreation.

After shutting down in March 2020, facilities began to slowly reopen through the summer months by carefully implementing safety guidelines, including increased sanitation, social distancing, and restricted attendance to allow San Diegans to resume their favorite hiking, fishing, horseback riding, and bird watching activities.

Naturalists Paige DeCino (left) and Karen Merrill survey South Lake Reservoir. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Volunteers Offer Birds Eye View at South Lake Reservoir

For decades, it was a source of drinking water for the San Marcos area. Today, the South Lake Reservoir has new life as a local wildlife habitat.

South Lake was built with an earthen dam and provided drinking water to the Lake San Marcos area, most of downtown San Marcos, and the Coronado Hills area. Updates to potable water treatment had detrimental effects on the lake ecology, so the Vallecitos Water District stopped using the lake as a drinking water source in 1984, although it remained an emergency water supply for another decade.

South Lake Reservoir is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life, waterfowl, quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

South Lake Reservoir is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life, waterfowl, quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Now, South Lake provides a thriving ecosystem within and around the facility. The lake is home to freshwater fish and abundant aquatic plant life. Waterfowl such as coots, gallinules, grebes, various species of ducks, and cormorants frequent the lake throughout the year. The property is filled with quail, doves, deer, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, bobcats, and coyotes.

Volunteers help identify habitat and wildlife at South Lake

Vallecitos Water District staff recently surveyed the area to look for animal tracks and other signs of wildlife, and to catalog plant and animal species.

Certified California naturalists Paige DeCino and Karen Merrill from Preserve Calavera assisted Vallecitos public information representative Alicia Yerman, who is also a certified naturalist. The team spent three days exploring the lake and the 1.4-mile trail. Merrill and DeCino host the volunteer UC Naturalist certification program. The program is currently on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Wildlife cameras at South Lake Reservoir captured this visiting bobcat at night. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Wildlife cameras at South Lake Reservoir captured this visiting bobcat at night. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Two wildlife cameras were set up at South Lake to capture wildlife activity over a two-week period. Lisa Urabe, a University of California trained Master Gardener and Vallecitos public information representative, asked the Buena Vista Audubon Society to conduct a bird survey. The BVAS volunteers identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showcasing some of the species.

BVAS volunteers were enthusiastic about surveying the birds in an area set aside as wildlife habitat. With increased habitat fragmentation, BVAS hopes the area will remain primarily an area for wildlife.

Buena Vista Audubon Society volunteers including Karen Merrill andd Paig DeCino identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showcasing some of the species seen. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Buena Vista Audubon Society volunteers including Karen Merrill andd Paige DeCino identified 36 species in mid-February and created a YouTube video showing some of species. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

“What you have at South Lake is a gem of the healthy functioning habitat— flora, fauna, and it is just a complete picture of what we hope our open spaces and natural lands to be,” said Karen Merrill. “It is something we should treasure now and into the future. It is one of a kind here on coastal San Diego County.”

Vallecitos employees take pride in the lake and its surrounding ecosystem and strive to keep the habitat intact for generations to come.

Vallecitos Water District staff including maintenance operator Marcelino Sanchez help maintain the lake and habitat. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Vallecitos Water District staff, including water distribution operator Marcelino Sanchez, help maintain the lake and habitat. Photo: Vallecitos Water District

Firefighting helicopters can pull water from the lake

In addition to its value as local wildlife habitat, South Lake is available for fire suppression. Firefighting helicopters can pull water from the lake during wildfire events. The lake may be used as part of the City of San Marcos’ park system in the future.

Water quality within South Lake is monitored daily by water distribution operators, and the condition of the dam’s integrity is recorded weekly. Recently, an environmentally-sound ultrasonic technology made by LG Sonic was placed on the lake to reduce algae blooms and to improve water quality.

Salton Sea: Could Ocean Water Import Be Long-Term Fix?

In many ways, California has stepped up in its commitments to the Salton Sea as tens of millions of dollars have flowed toward restoration efforts for smaller-scale projects planned over the next 10 years. Those projects will largely address potentially hazardous conditions to human and animal life brought on by exposed seabed and loss of bird habitat from ever-shrinking inflows of water.

Something was Killing Baby Salmon. Scientists Traced it to a Food-Web Mystery

The biologists working in a fish hatchery near Shasta Dam grew increasingly concerned last year when newly hatched salmon fry began to act strangely — swimming around and around, in tight, corkscrewing motions, before spiraling to their deaths at the bottom of the tanks.

Certain runs of chinook salmon in California are imperiled; the hatcheries and the fry raised there are the federal government’s last-ditch effort to sustain these ecologically and economically vital fish populations.