Santa Margarita River:
refuge in an urbanizing land
by Steve Evans
One of Southern California's last free-flowing river refuges at our
own back door
ormed by the confluence of Temecula and Murrieta creeks
in southwestern Riverside County, the Santa Margarita River immediately
flows into spectacular Temecula Gorge and crosses the San Diego County line
just north of the town of Fallbrook. From there, the river flows through
the U.S. Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton and thence to the Pacific Ocean.
One of the last free-flowing rivers in Southern California,
the Santa Margarita River is widely recognized by various local, state,
and federal agencies as an irreplaceable scenic and ecological treasure.
The river's 27 miles of lush riparian vegetation is a singular natural resource
in this rapidly urbanizing region. Its diverse vegetative and aquatic habitats
are home to numerous plants and animals, including 500 plant species, 236
bird species, 52 mammal species, 43 reptile species, 26 fish species, and
24 species of aquatic invertebrates.
For the birds
The riparian corridor contains the highest density and
overall diversity of bird species of any natural area in the south coastal
river basin. The Santa Margarita's lush riparian growth supports a substantial
percentage of the nation's entire population of the endangered least bell's
vireo. This small migratory song bird has been extirpated from 95 percent
of its historic breeding range, but has found a home in the Santa Margarita
River canyon. The lower portion of the river supports extensive coastal
wetlands which provide important habitat for other sensitive and endangered
bird species, including the lightfooted clapper rail, Belding's savannah
sparrow and California least tern.
The Santa Margarita River also supports the largest
remaining native population of arroyo chub, a small fish that was formerly
abundant throughout Southern California. Large runs of coastal steelhead
trout have been extirpated from the Santa Margarita, but the river remains
one of the few nearly pristine coastal watersheds in which to reintroduce
this biologically unique species.
Saving the river
In recognition of the river's outstanding ecological
values, the Bureau of Land Management has determined that a small segment
of the river flowing through scattered public lands is eligible for national
Wild & Scenic River status. Connecting the BLM parcels is the 4,000-acre
Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve which encompasses state land administered
by San Diego State University. In addition, the Nature Conservancy has recently
purchased river frontage just downstream of Temecula and is considering
further acquisitions along the river. Altogether, nearly six miles of the
river downstream of Temecula to the Riverside and San Diego county line
is publicly owned. The remainder is largely owned by the Fallbrook Public
Utilities District and the Marine Corps.
The Santa Margarita has been targeted by dam builders
since 1945, but no viable project has surfaced due to prohibitive costs,
egregious environmental impacts and widespread public opposition. Despite
its free flowing nature, the river already provides an important water supply
by restoring groundwater aquifers utilized by local residents and the Marine
Corps. Water quality and flood control are emerging issues as the watershed
becomes increasingly urbanized. These issues are being addressed in a multi-agency
Coordinated Resource Management Plan being developed by local, state and
federal agencies to protect the outstanding resources of the river.
Friends of the River, the Friends of the Santa Margarita
River and the San Diego State University Ecological Reserve are proposing
national Wild & Scenic River designation for six miles of the Santa
Margarita River downstream of Temecula to the Riverside-San Diego county
line. The proposal also includes Wild & Scenic River study of an additional
live miles of the river from the county line to the Camp Pendleton boundary.
Rep. George Miller and Sen. Barbara Boxer have been asked to include these
river segments in their proposed omnibus California Wild & Scenic Rivers
bill, which may be introduced as early as March.
Reprinted with permission of Steve Evans, from Headwaters,
published by Friends of the River.
Take part in National River Clean Up Week
ationwide, more than 60,000 trash bags were filled at
440 clean up events around the country. Locally, four bags were contributed
by participants organized by Outback Adventures in conjunction with Earth
Day. Last year's Colorado River Clean-up was so successful they are doing
it again! Up to forty participants will canoe and help clean up forty-five
tranquil miles of the Colorado River as it passes through the Imperial National
Wildlife Refuge, just south of Blythe, California. The trip departs from
San Diego at 6:00PM on Friday May 20th and and returns 10:00 PM Sunday evening,
May 22. This special weekend river clean-up/canoe trip includes: Round-trip
motor coach transportation with refreshments; Five delicious meals; Saturday
breakfast through Sunday lunch; Camping and canoeing equipment & waterproof
bag for your personal gear; and Canoe paddling instructions. $179.00 Contact:
Outback Adventures (619) 696-5282 or see them at EarthFair '94!