Piute Ponds has undergone a series of renovations over the last couple years and is now reaping the benefits of those years of construction.
In January of 2011, Edwards Environmental Management and Ducks Unlimited signed a formalized memorandum of agreement to upgrade and preserve the ponds.
“The ultimate fate of most managed wetland habitats is to fill in and become upland habitats. If you don’t manage them and somewhat set back natural succession, they will disappear,” said Mark Hagan, EM Natural Resource manager. “A lot of wetlands have disappeared in California in the last 100 years or so. We’re trying to enhance the quality of the habitat and Ducks Unlimited was able to help us achieve our goals.”
With the help of a grant secured through the Sonoran Joint Venture, a conservation organization that works to preserve the birds and habitats of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, Ducks Unlimited supplied the ponds with new water control structures, assisted in vegetation control and increased the number of trees with 50 new black willows. The trees, which were grown from saplings, are now about five feet tall.
The water control structures, known as weirs, allow the water to be moved efficiently between the ponds. New dirt containment dikes were restored or constructed and Sanitation District 14 lined them with recycled concrete to prevent future erosion. The recycled concrete came from the old Environmental Management building, as well as from parking lots and sidewalks around base that were being removed.
“What we had was a closed system prior to this work, water would flow into the ponds naturally through gravity, but there wasn’t a lot of ability to move the water around so ponds would just fill up and stagnate. If we could control the water, move it around, we would have fresh water, which is better for the wetland resources than stagnant water,” said Hagan.
Vegetation control involved clearing overgrown bulrush from the marsh and wetland areas that had been reducing the wildlife’s habitat for years.
“If the area gets choked in with vegetation, only a couple species can use it instead of a lot of species so we’re trying to increase the biodiversity out there,” said Hagan.
Wanda Deal, EM Natural Resource specialist, added, “Little Piute, which is the main marsh in the area, had become so overgrown with bulrush that it was very difficult for the water to get through anymore.”
In 2012, during phase 1 (construction of weirs and dikes), the water supply to Little Piute was shut off so that the pond would begin to dry out. The original plan was to burn the tules, but by the time the area dried out and phase 2 was to begin, that was no longer an option and it had to be mechanically cleared out.
“It’s like a haircut,” said Hagan. “If you don’t like it, just give it some time and it’ll grow back.”
However, an underwater ‘haircut’ for the vegetation is not easy. Sanitation District 14 aided the project with water management during the vegetation control process. Hagan noted that even a little rain can create a setback causing construction vehicles to get stuck in the mud.
“We’ve always partnered with District 14 since the base was established and they’ve used the area long before the base was here,” said Deal.
“As the community grew, they diverted a lot of the natural surface flow away from Rosamond Lake and away from the Piute Ponds area and of course, as they grew, the waste water grew. The waste water treatment plant grew, so basically the water you would expect to naturally flow is recycled and comes back to the pond, just in a different way,” said Deal.
She added that the water source allows EM to flood the dry lake bed, to limit cracking and protecting the surface. The water is necessary in sustaining the wildlife in the area, which results in recreational opportunities for the community. Frequenters of the ponds include bird watchers, photographers, hikers and duck hunters. The area is also used for educational and research purposes.
“Now, both the base and District 14 have control of where the water goes,” said Deal. “That is the fundamental benefit to what Ducks Unlimited did for D14 and Edwards, they gave us the ability to have control over where the water goes and the wildlife and wetland benefit.”
Ducks Unlimited’s mission is to preserve wetlands and promote waterfowl conservation.
Piute Ponds is located at the extreme southwest of Edwards. Access to the ponds can be obtained by contacting the Environmental Management Office, Wanda Deal at 661-277-1426; or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more about Piute Ponds here www.edwards.af.mil/news/story.asp.