Who Knew You Could Find A Marshland in The Middle of a City?

  • Posted on 2 March 2022
  • By Al Sattler
The Bixby Marshland is a 17-acre marsh near the intersection of Figueroa Street and Sepulveda Boulevard in the City of Carson, on land owned by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County. Marshland is a transitional area between terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) environments. There are many native plants and animals, especially ones that need wetlands and depend on the marsh for survival.
The Bixby Marshland was restored by the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County in 2009. The marshland was formerly part of a large freshwater marshland area called Bixby Slough, which had been there long before Europeans came to California.
In the mid-1970s the Flood Control District built a flood control channel along the Harbor Freeway to protect the area from flooding. The channelization cut the marshland off from its water supply, and it would have gone dry if not for Mary Ann Mark, a Sierra Club activist. Mary Ann pointed out that this action violated the Clean Water Act, thereby causing an agreement to be signed by the Flood Control District and the Sanitation Districts to revitalize the marshland. The result was the installation of a pump to lift water from the storm drain into the marsh, to keep it as a freshwater marsh.
However by 2005, the pump was inoperable from neglect, the area was overrun by non-native plants and barely functioned as a marsh. To compensate for damage to the environment caused by a few construction projects, the Sanitation Districts restored the marshland. This kind of compensation is called mitigation. Contractors removed non-native plants, re-contoured the area to improve water flow, and planted over 200 species of native plants. The Sanitation Districts now maintains the pump and marshland. The marshland serves as a transitional area between the terrestrial (land) and aquatic (water) environments and is a valuable rest stop for migrating birds.
Left to right: Egret, Canada Goose and goslings

Left to right: Egret, Canada Goose and goslings

As stormwater/rains flow slowly through the marsh, it is returned to the storm drain, cleaner than when it entered the marsh.  From there, it flows under Lomita Boulevard, then flows through the Wilmington Drain, which is a natural waterway, rather than a concrete-encased storm drain (thanks again to Mary Ann Mark).  From the Wilmington Drain, the water flows under Pacific Coast Highway and enters Machado Lake, which is in Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park.  The park, with Machado Lake, is another good place to see waterbirds.  It was recently restored with many native plants.
The Bixby Marshland receives all its water from the storm drain and rain.  When it has not rained, when the storm drain is dry, the marshland gradually dries.  When there have been heavy storms, most of the marsh is underwater. However, the water is kept low enough to not flood out the trails or parking lot, by having it flow back into the storm drain.
This is a managed marshland.  There are no floods coming through, no deer or antelope to browse and graze to keep the plants from overgrowing, no grizzly bears to tear up the ground.  We humans have to maintain the marsh, trim plants, including cutting back tules  (a large bulrush that is abundant in marshy areas of California) so that mosquito fish can get in to eat mosquito larvae.
When you visit the marsh, you can see all the plants listed, however, depending on the season and your luck, you will see some of the birds listed.
Plants: Willow, sycamore, cottonwood, alder, and pine trees; sage, buckwheat, elderberry, roses, lemonade berry, coyote bush, grape, bush sunflowers, tules, mule fat.
Top row: Rose hips, alder, mule fat bottom row: elderberry flowers and elderberry berries

Top row: Rose hips, alder, mule fat, Bottom row: Elderberry flowers and elderberry berries

Birds: Ducks, geese, herons, egrets, hawks, kestrels, hummingbirds, red-winged blackbirds, bushtits, goldfinch
Mammals: Raccoons, gophers, coyotes. 
Fish: Western Mosquito Fish (planted, to control mosquitoes)
Amphibians:  Pacific Tree Frogs
Reptiles: Western Fence Lizard, turtles
Insects: Dragonflies, damselflies, bees.
Drop by and visit us, bring your school, clubs, bird watchers, etc., you can even volunteer to help show this beautiful Marsh in the heart of the City of Carson. Bixby Marsh is open to the public the first Saturday of each month, from 8 am to noon.  By special arrangement, it can be opened for groups on other days.  There are level paved trails, with boardwalks over marshy areas and it is wheelchair accessible.

Wetlands Facts 

  • More than 95% of California’s wetlands have been destroyed
  • Wetlands are home to 43% of federally-listed endangered and threatened species
  • Wetlands absorb and slow down floodwaters
  • Wetlands remove contaminants from water

Al Sattler is a long-time member of the Angeles Chapter Water Committee and a Docent at Bixby Marsh.

Header image by LACSD


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Al, Thanks for sharing the story of the Bixby Marshland! As you noted above, for every wetland saved 19 wetlands and their unique, vital habitats have been lost — nearly all in just the past 100 years across the West. We miss all our friends in Southern California, but love these stories even more now from the distant Pacific NW.

In the middle of Torrance, there is a 43 acre Vernal marshland. It's easy to find the website online...

Thank you Al Sattler for this interesting article about the Bixby Marshland and for caring about our remaining wetlands! I will have to come by and visit! Hoping for some rainfall soon :-)

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