Bolsa Chica


Site Bolsa Chica

Map Seal Beach, 7.5' USGS quadrangle

Location Bolsa Chica is located in the unincorporated portion of Orange County, surrounded by the City of Huntington Beach and bordered to the west by the Pacific Coast Highway.

Contacts City of Huntington Beach; 714-536-5511

California Department of Fish and Game; 310-590-5132

Orange County Environmental Management Agency; 714-834-5394

Amigos de Bolsa Chica; 714-897-7003

Koll Real Estate Group; 714-225-4700

Approximate Wetland Habitat Acreage 900 (does not include wetland habitat outside of the LCP area)
Approximate Historic Acreage 2300 acres of tidally influenced wetlands and large expanses of freshwater wetlands.

Ownership Owner Acres Source

State of California (ecological reserve) 306 1

City of Huntington Beach (includes mesa area) 13 1

Metropolitan Water District (lowlands only) 31 1

Private (lowlands only) 917 1


Land Use Designation Orange County's Local Coastal Program Land Use Plan (1996) designates the following categories; conservation, recreation, public facility (flood control and reservoir) and residential.
Onsite Use Uses include; State Ecological Reserve, regional park land, oil and gas production and storage, and flood control channel drainage ways.
Historic Use Until the early 1890's the site was used for cattle ranching and agriculture. In 1899 the Bolsa Gun Club began construction of dikes and access roads to create duck ponds, which cut off most tidal circulation in the wetlands. In the

1920's oil and gas exploration began and by 1992, 217 wells had been drilled.

Adjacent Use The Pacific Coast Highway and Warren Avenue form the western and northern borders. The residential communities of Huntington Beach, Huntington Harbor and the unincorporated community of Sunset Beach are to the east and west, with

oil production facilities the mesa to the south.

Adjacent Historic Use The surrounding mesas were used for cattle ranching, sheep grazing and agriculture until rapid urbanization began in the early 1920's.


Tidal Influence Although once an extensive tidal marsh system, with the construction of duck hunting ponds, oil drilling pads and attendant access roads, much of the marsh area was removed from tidal influence. Outer Bolsa Bay is directly connected to

Huntington Harbor, which is the only area fully open to tidal influence. Inner Bolsa Bay and the Ecological Reserve have a controlled tidal regime (through the use of flood gates to Outer Bolsa Bay) which fluctuates around MSL.

Watershed Area 27.3 square miles

Tributaries and Flow Tributary Flow Source

East Garden Grove - Wintersburg Channel Flow is negligible except during rainfall and rainfall run-off (typical monthly flow is less than 100 ac. ft.). 4

Freeman Creek Channel Annual discharge is 23-27 acre feet from rain fall and urban run-off pumped into the creek from the Springdale pump station. 2
Dams None

Other Sources Annual storm and urban run-off from the residential areas of Huntington and Bolsa Chica Mesas is 85 to 136 acre feet.


General According to the Regional Water Quality Control Board 303(d) List water is of intermediate quality. The List identifies water quality problems as a threat to shell fish and contaminents in urban run-off. Water Quality Control Plan,
4, 6

Santa Ana Basin Plan 1994 classified the water's Beneficial Uses as rec1, rec2, biol, wild, rare, spwn, mar, and shel.

Dissolved Oxygen (DO) Average dissolved oxygen level in Inner Bolsa Bay for 1967 through 1988 is 7.04 mg/L, with a range of 1.6 to 14.2 mg/L. Depth and time of day of sampling is not specified. Surface water temperatures ranged from 12.0 to 23.6 degrees C.
Water Salinity Averages for quarterly sampling in 1988 were; surface - 30.3 ppt, and bottom - 30.5 ppt.
Sediment 17,000 cu. yds. transported annually from East Garden Grove-Winterberg Channel watershed.


Soil Near surface soils of the lowlands consist predominantly of discontinuous lenses of fine sands and clays. Intertidal sediments consist of soft organic clays, loose to medium sands and silts, and local peat.

Habitat Acres Vegetation
Open water 171 Not specified. 2, 1
Non-vegetated mud flats. 355 1994 - algae 2, 1
Salt marsh (both tidal & non-tidal) 368 1994 - dominated by pickleweed, with saltgrass, cordgrass, and southern tarplant present. 2, 1
Brackish marsh 5 1994 - pickleweed, saltgrass, bulrushes and sedges present 2
Freshwater ponds 1 1994 - dominated by cattails 2


Birds A compilation of 15 surveys from 1970 through 1993 identified 206 species, including 129 water related species and 32 special status species. Twelve species have been observed nesting on site, including the elegant tern#, burrowing owl#,

California horned lark# and Beldings savannah sparrow#, western snowy plover#, California least tern#, black skimmer#, loggerhead shrike#.

Fish A 1988/89 study was conducted at five stations in Bolsa Bay at quarterly intervals. A total of 18 different species of fish were identified, with topsmelt and arrow gobies the most abundant at every station. California killifish, bay pipefish,

Pacific staghorn sculpin, longjaw mudsuckers, diamond turbot and California halibut were also present. Sampling methods were not specified.

Benthic Invertebrates In a 1980 study 25 species of invertebrates were observed in Bolsa Bay. Bivalves included the smooth chione clam, common little neck, bentnose clam and bay mussel. Other invertebrates identified were ribbon worms, oligochaetes, polychaetes,

nematodes and turban snails. In addition, 21 species of zooplankton were collected. A 1986 study found water boatmen, brine shrimp, brine flies and water fleas to be the most abundant species in the non-tidal aquatic habitats.

Insect In a 1990 study insects from nearly 200 species were collected at Bolsa Chica. Marsh and aquatic insects included seven families of bees, seven species of flies, true bugs, butterflies, tiger beetles, red-bellied tiger beetles, mud flat tiger

beetles and ephydrid flies.

Other Wildlife Reptiles and amphibians from a 1971 study included the Pacific tree frog, western turtle, African clawed frog*, slender salamander, side-blotched lizard, alligator lizard, southern Pacific rattle snake, and the gopher and common king snake.

Mammals collected from live traps in 1970, 1981, 1986, 1988, and 1993 include the western harvest mouse, house mouse, and California ground squirrel. Also observed were the striped skunk, cottontail rabbit, coyotes, American badger, and red foxes*.

Special Status Species 1993 Birds - common loon, American white pelican, California brown pelican, double crested cormorant, reddish egret, elegant tern, white-face ibis, light-footed clapper rail, western snowy plover#, long-billed curlew, California gull,

California least tern#, black tern, elegant tern#, black skimmer#, Northern harrier, short-eared owl, loggerhead shrike#, saltmarsh common yellowthroat, Belding's savannah sparrow#, tricolored blackbird, borrowing owl#,

and California horned lark#.

1990 Invertebrate, amphibian, reptile and mammal - San Diego coast horned lizard, southwestern pond turtle, silvery legless lizard, salt marsh shrew, American badger, and Black-tailed jackrabbit.

1993 Plants - Southern tarplant


Enhancement Status Since the 1960's numerous proposals have been made for the Bolsa Chica marsh and adjacent planning areas. In 1973 the state gained possession of approximately 300 acres of wetlands and in 1978 163 acres of the State Ecological

Reserve were returned to tidal action. In 1996 an amended LCP Land Use Plan and Implementing Actions Program was certified by the California Coastal Commission. These documents provide specific proposals for development of the mesa and

lowlands. The lowlands component contains proposals for low density housing in the most regraded areas of the lowlands, and expansion, creation and restoration of wetlands, Environmental Sensitive Habitat Areas and open space buffers.

Watershed Management As of 1992 the watershed was 85 percent urbanized. It is expected that in the next 50 years full development of the remaining agricultural and vacant land will occur.
Pressure Possible soil contamination and poor water quality from run-off negatively impact native marsh plants. Subsidence of land surface may reduce existing habitats. Much of the wetlands areas continue to degrade due to lack of tidal inundation.


1 Orange County Environmental Management Agency. 1996. Bolsa Chica land use plan; first amendment to the 1986 certified land use plan and policies of the Bolsa Chica Local Coastal Program. 241 pp., plus appendices.

This document is the land use plan certified (with suggested modifications) by the California Coastal Commission in 1996. Contains a detailed biological and hydrological wetland restoration plan and overall development plan for the mesa

and lowlands. Report also contains details on land uses, resource restoration, public access, transportation, oil production, and financing and phasing of the wetland restoration.

2 Orange County Environmental Managememnt Agency. 1994. Revised draft environmental impact report for the Bolsa Chica Project. SCN 93-071064. 14 sections.

The purpose of this third draft EIR is to analyze the most recently proposed development and its alternatives, and the Local Coastal Program land use plan. Detailed maps and drawings of the proposed development are provided for

both the Mesa and Lowland components. Existing habitat acreage is defined, and loss and gains from the proposed development identified.

3 California State Coastal Conservancy and Romberg Tiburon Centers. 1990. Bolsa Chica restoration alternatives. 78 pp plus appendices.

Three restoration alternatives for the Bolsa Chica lowlands are presented and reviewed. A brief discussion of existing site conditions is provided along with the presentation of the goals and objectives for the restoration project.

4 Chambers Group, Inc. for US Army Corps of Engineers and City of Huntington Beach. 1992. Draft environmental impact statement / environmental impact report for the proposed Bolsa Chica Project. SAN 91-041061.

This draft EIS/EIR was withdrawn before any action was taken. Report evaluates the various alternatives proposed for housing and urban development, and wetland restoration. Increased

tidal circulation derived from either a navigable or a non-navigable ocean connection is also evaluated.

5 Orange Country Environmental Management Agency. 1996. Bolsa Chica planned community program; an implementing actions program of the Bolsa Chica Local Coastal Program. ~90 pp., plus appendices.

The Planned Community Program provides Zoning District Regulations for the 1,588 acre Bolsa Chica Planned Community, identifies the general location and types of land use permitted within the community, establishes a hierarchy

for the permitting process, and reviews regulations governing the development of the project. This document was certified (with suggested modifications) by the California Coastal Commission in 1996.

6 Regional Water Quality Control Board. 1995. Water Quality Control Plan for the Santa Ana River Basin. 200 pp.

The plan includes information on the quality of inland surface waters, coastal waters, reservoirs and lakes and ground water in Orange County. It identifies beneficial uses potentially supported by these waters and provides a plan for their protection.

7 Department of Fish and Game. 1985. Department of Fish and Game findings and recommendations for the maintenance, restoration, and enhancement of wetlands and non-wetland environmentally sensitive habitat areas at Bolsa Chica, Orange Co. 41 pp.

Evaluation of the Habitat Conservation Plan of 1984 approved by the California Coastal Commission. Report contains specific recommendations for phasing of the development, retention of ESHA's, design of buffer zones,

size and type of ocean connection, and configuration of the proposed restored wetlands.

8 Orange County Environmental Management Agency. 1996. Bolsa Chica Local Coastal Program; wetlands restoration program. ~115 pp., plus appendices.

This document comprehensively details the various plans, regulations, and procedure required to create, restore, and consolidate the Bolsa Chica Wetlands Ecosystem. The Wetlands Restoration Program also defines responsibilities for habitat

conservation, maintenance, and monitoring during the construction and five year post-construction periods, and for the long term. This document was certified (with suggested modifications) by the California Coastal Commission in 1996.



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