Los Cerritos Wetlands (LCW) Project Approved by Coastal Commission

As we have shared in our announcements, the first major restoration at Los Cerritos Wetlands was recently approved by the Coastal Commission on December 13th, 2018, the BOMP Oil Consolidation/Wetlands Restoration Project, which Audubon supports.  This project is often characterized by the media as controversial because some environmentalists oppose.  Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority, Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, Bolsa Chica Land Trust and many others support the project.  Much like Bolsa Chica, the Los Cerritos Wetlands vision has always been to return the land, highly impacted by the oil industry, to wetlands.  Unfortunately we don’t have control over what they do with oil operations removed from the wetlands, and the restoration supporters have never included “end all oil extraction” in their wetlands restoration advocacy as it is known “end oil” has a very long road ahead.  The value of coastal wetlands and the extent of the loss of California coastal wetlands is of great concern–the more we can restore sooner rather than later, the better. 

As we’ve promised, listed below are additional details, pictures and information about the first approved and funded restoration project at Los Cerritos Wetlands.  First, some ask “what is this project”? 

In brief review, the “BOMP” Oil Consolidation/Wetlands Restoration Project is:

  • Pertains to the privately owned portion of LCW owned by Synergy Oil (north of 2nd St., west of Studebaker Rd.), most importantly this portion of LCW contains the only original part of these wetlands left, aka “Steamshovel Slough” on the north side of the Synergy Oil Property.
  • The South Section of the Synergy Oil property is separated from the slough by a berm and paralleled by muted and degraded wetlands with an active oil field on these muted, filled and drilled wetlands.  The entire acreage of the Synergy Oil owned property (all historically Los Cerritos Wetlands) is approximately 154 acres. 
  • The oil company will move oil operations built to 1960’s standards off this large mostly degraded wetlands acreage and consolidate oil operations on two properties of about 5 acres each–154 acres of oil operations on wetlands, consolidated down to just over 10 or 11 acres on two adjacent industrial use and landfill sites.
  • The two approximate 5 acre oil consolidation sites (where the “new” replacement wells will go) are the “pumpkin patch” (a landfill site used for pumpkin and Christmas tree sales) and 5 acres at the corner of 2nd/Westminster & Studebaker used to store road construction supplies surrounded by a tank farm by the power plant. 
  • Included in the project is the section of oil fields adjacent to the freshwater “Marketplace Marsh” (south of 2nd Street, east of Shopkeeper Rd).  The oil operations will also be removed there opening the door for restoration in a later phase. 
  • Today eight (8) rigid pipelines crisscross the Synergy oil fields and an earthquake fault, these existing pipelines and wells have no modern failure safety measures.  This will be replaced by one pipeline crossing the fault built to withstand big quakes, with spill containment measures, and the entire new consolidated oil operations will have all the modern safety and spill containment features.  The consolidated wells will be outside the fault zone.  
  • The existing historic Bixby building used as Synergy Oil office will be moved off the fault line and converted to a wetlands visitor center.  Public access will also include a perimeter trail around the wetlands.
  • A new Synergy office building will be constructed at the Pumpkin Patch site after removal of the old landfill, and will be landscaped with native plants and designed with bird safe glass. 
  • The restoration will be phased, with Phase I just approved by the Coastal Commission this December for the 30 acres of muted/degraded wetlands parallel to the pristine “Steamshovel Slough”, which will happen in less than 5 to 10 years.  All oil operations will be consolidated off the entire 154 acres in 10 to 20 years or even less, at which time the Phase II restoration will begin as a separate plan. 
  • It is important to note this oil consolidation/wetlands restoration project is not funded by tax payer money and is separate from Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority’s plan, although the LCWA is very involved and the restored wetlands will be transferred to the LCWA.   “BOMP” or “BOM” was formed to head the oil consolidation/restoration project (Beach Oil Mineral Partners) and hopes to sell mitigation bank credits later to recoup money they spent on the restoration. 


A major benefit, the only natural intact piece of Los Cerritos Wetlands in existence today will be in public hands and permanently protected and managed—the 44 acre salt marsh known locally as “Steamshovel Slough”.  With the addition of another adjacent 30 acres of restored wetlands, the size of the salt marsh will be nearly doubled.  Upland habitat around the marsh, primarily taken over by invasive weeds, will be restored with plants native to the area.  Contaminated soils will be remediated, oil operations removed from 154 acres clearing the way for a second phase of restoration.  For later phases “adaptive restoration” has been mentioned briefly, which in general means restoring at higher elevations for sea level rise and allowing marsh to gradually migrate.  Along with all the habitat benefits the project includes passive public access and an educational interpretive/visitor center.  


El Dorado Audubon, Audubon California and our sister chapters have followed and participated in the restoration process of Los Cerritos Wetlands for decades, including the BOMP consolidation/restoration project.  We have reviewed EIRs, plans, we hired an attorney and our own biologist to review and advise us on the project. 

Some people are opposed to the project based on removing the oil consolidation component out of the plan completely, hence to stop all oil drilling, which legally speaking cannot be done any time in the foreseeable future.  Important to note our attorney reviewed the plan and found nothing legally wrong or illegal with the proposed consolidation/restoration plan, advised Audubon to meet with the BOMP project team regarding the restoration itself and work out our concerns.  Which we did.  El Dorado Audubon chose not to spend our limited member donations fighting an “end oil cause”–against a wetlands restoration. 

Our mission is “conservation of native birds and their habitats”, which habitat restoration is a key function in conserving native birds.  More importantly we were very concerned with the “no project” alternative.  The existing oil field is already prone to some tidal exchange as it exists today despite the fact an earthen berm exists; current oil operations are right on the edge of muted wetlands with pipe lines literally running across the wetlands.  The “no project” alternative would result in these outdated, wetlands residing oil operations continuing indefinitely as is.  Should the sea level rise predictions come to pass, this means the existing oil field with no modern safety measures would experience severe flooding impacting the adjacent “Steamshovel Slough” and Alamitos Bay.  Therefore, in this case Audubon felt the project, closely reviewed and “conditioned”, was the best choice. 

Through the process of this oil consolidation/restoration project our involvement resulted in some of the special conditions imposed on the project by permitting agencies, and we also supported other special conditions during the permitting process at City of Long Beach and California Coastal Commission.  You can read the Coastal Commission report and what was approved, including 25 special conditions, click here

It is important to note by definition we are more a conservationist organization rather than an environmentalist organization, as our mission statement indicates, although these two terms are often used interchangeably these days.  We look for practical, balanced solutions to problems, based on a variety of expert advice, research and more.  Audubon is a science-based conservation organization.  We respect and work with project proponents, government agencies, public offices and public officials, often privately and effectively in regards to our mission.  We didn’t arrive at our support for the BOMP oil consolidation/restoration project easily, much thought and review was put into this.

To address the often sensational media statements regarding this consolidation/restoration project, which are often a bit confusing and perhaps misleading such as “more drilling expected”, “sea level rise will turn restoration into mud flats”, “greenhouse gas increase”, “millions of barrels will be extracted compared to 300 barrels now”, etc. below are a few verified facts:

  • Existing operations = 33 active wells, 74 wells total including those idle (which could be put back into service)
  • “New” replacement wells = includes both oil wells and water re-injection wells (oil mixed with water is extracted, oil is separated and water is cleaned and put back in the ground preventing ground subsidence).  No fracking is allowed.  No water re-injection wells exist in the existing oil operations, therefore no ground subsidence measures are being taken in the current oil operations. 
  • The 33 wells active in the existing operations are currently producing 300 barrels a day
  • All 74 existing wells (currently on the wetlands), if running, could produce up 10,000 barrels a day; however, the project approval includes a maximum 2,500 barrel a day cap for the existing oil field which BOMP self-imposed to show good faith that they are in fact serious about getting oil operations off the wetlands.  Therefore you may see the media stating 10,000 barrels a day while the Coastal report states 2,500 barrels a day. 
  • The oil operator chooses not to maintain and run all 74 wells as moving off the wetlands to more modern consolidated operations is more cost effective/efficient. 
  • The “new” consolidation wells could produce 24,000 barrels a day (not millions).  And yes more modern technology can extract faster. 
  • The greenhouse gas (GHG) emission increases estimated for the consolidation project component are based on the 300 barrels a day, not the full capacity of all existing 74 wells running which the operator would and could legally run all 74 wells if the consolidation had not been approved.  Also the carbon sink abilities of a wetlands restoration were not factored into the GHG emissions calculations, making the estimated GHG emission for the consolidation project on the high side.  The Coastal Commission addressed the GHG with a number of special conditions to offset increases. 


If you follow National Audubon and Audubon California you may notice many birds and their habitats are at risk for a variety of reasons, including those that use Los Cerritos Wetlands during their migrations and those that reside year around.  Salt marshes and mudflats are very critical foraging grounds to these birds.  Locally development is closing in, not good for either our resident or migrant birds, they need good quality replacement habitat for foraging and nesting.  We felt to wait 50 years or more to restore the wetlands (in hopes oil extraction would someday be illegal) would be detrimental to this Audubon Important Bird Area.   Had the “new” relocated consolidation wells actually been proposed on a habitat and not on industrial use sites we would have a very different position of course.  Or, if oil operations and pipelines did not already exist all over Los Cerritos Wetlands then we would have a different position about this oil consolidation project component.  However the fact is, oil is already there and the areas adjacent to the wetlands for oil well relocation are industrial sites.  As a side note, in the case of Los Cerritos Wetlands, there would be nothing left of the wetlands to restore had the area not been exploited for oil, otherwise it would have no doubt already been developed into housing or shopping centers. 

We hope this helps explain and clarify what is behind all the project “controversy” chatter online and in the media.  Hopefully those who oppose the project can eventually understand and accept that Audubon is entitled to our point of view and position on this matter, as they are entitled to theirs as well, which we don’t hold against them or criticize them for having a different view. 

As the project moves forward, wetlands restoration and oil consolidation activities will be heavily monitored and reviewed by many government agencies on an ongoing basis, which is standard protocol for such projects. 

Included below are pictures of the original/intact Los Cerritos Wetlands Marsh (aka “Steamshovel Slough”) which will now be in public hands along with pictures of the adjacent oil field to be relocated/consolidated onto two 5 acre industrial use properties, recent pictures of those two 5 acre properties to become the consolidated oil operations, the Phase I restoration area adjacent to Steamshovel Slough, the Synergy Oil Field to be removed and consolidated off the wetlands (clearing the land for a Phase II restoration) and degraded/muted wetlands, the berm between Steamshovel Slough and the Synergy Oil Field intended to keep sea water out of the oil field, a December 2018 high tide showing sea water nearly breaching the existing berm from the wetlands into the oil field and the weedy uplands area along Studebaker Rd. to become a public access trail with upland native plants.  Please also see our Conservation Page for additional photos and information.

Walk Recap–Los Cerritos Wetlands Oct. & Nov.

Fall is in full swing and our species counts at both our 2nd Saturday Hellman Lowlands walk and 4th Sunday Zedler Marsh walk are showing it!  To see our Facebook page photo gallery of these walks, click here.

Clark's Grebe, © Cindy Crawford

Clark’s Grebe, © Cindy Crawford

At the Zedler walk on October 28th we observed 25 species at this little pocket marsh with restored coastal sage scrub uplands, and along the trail to the marsh passing by the channel and Calloway Marsh.  Our group included all ages.  Our young birders (ages 4 and 9) were great at spotting and counting birds, and really enjoyed “Larry the Snowy Egret” (named by the locals), a rather tame Snowy who came in for a landing twice very close to the group.  Highlights included a Clark’s Grebe, a Pied-billed Grebe, Spotted Sandpiper running along a muddy bank feeding and doing the classic “tail bob”, and up close looks at Savannah Sparrow, Say’s Phoebe and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers.  


Peregrine Falcon © Jerry Millett

Peregrine Falcon © Jerry Millett

November 10th at Hellman Lowlands our birding class attendees along with instructors Charlie Collins and Anne Maben also joined the walk to do some field work, with local Biologist Robb Hamilton also attending.  Over 45 species observed!  Sightings included hundreds of Canada Geese flying in to the retention basin, two Snow Geese, a Greater White-fronted Goose, a Peregrine Falcon, Cassin’s Kingbirds, Greater Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher numerous Killdeer.  We witnessed a Red-tailed Hawk catch and eat a Botta Pocket Gopher. 



Belted Kingfisher (female), © Jerry Millett

Belted Kingfisher (female), © Jerry Millett

November 4th we hosted a field trip for Audubon Assembly participants at Los Cerritos Marsh (better known as “Steam Shovel Slough”).  We observed large number of Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, Marbled Godwits and Greater Yellowlegs along with the usual Canada Geese, Cassin’s Kingbirds, various sparrow species, Red-Tailed Hawks, Kestrels and others. 

Our Hellman Lowlands and Zedler Marsh walks continue in November & December and we always expect great bird sightings this time of year.  These two monthly walks are per an agreement with the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority (LCWA), which El Dorado Audubon is a partner in the LCWA Stewardship Program.   Our monthly LCWA 2nd Saturday and 4th Sunday walks will continue in 2019, which we will post on our website once the official 2019 Stewardship Program Schedule is released. 

Remaining 2018 Los Cerritos Wetlands Walks are listed below with some adjustments for holidays.  If you would like to participate in Christmas Bird Count at Los Cerritos Wetlands leave a voicemail for our President Mary Parsell at 562-252-5825.  (To participate in the Christmas Bird Count for other locations, click here to see our CBC article.)

Nov. 25th 3pm to 5pm, Zedler Marsh

Dec 8th, 8am to 10am, Hellman Lowlands

Dec 15th, all day, Christmas Bird Count (various areas including all of Los Cerritos Wetlands)

Dec 16th, 3pm to 5pm, Zedler Marsh (moved to 3rd Sunday in Dec. due to Holidays)

EDA’s Comments on Los Cerritos Wetlands Project

Post photo credit: ©Cindy Crawford

The Los Cerritos Wetlands Oil Consolidation and Restoration Project EIR went to Long Beach City Council on Jan. 16th, 2018 and was approved.  Important to note we do not support this project unconditionally.  Our chapter submitted public comments on the EIR as follows: 

Via e-mail

Mr. Craig Chalfant
Planning Bureau, Development Services Department
City of Long Beach
333 W. Ocean Blvd., 5th Floor
Long Beach, CA 90802
Re: Los Cerritos Wetlands Restoration and Oil Consolidation Project

Dear Mr. Chalfant,
On behalf of the El Dorado Audubon Society, the undersigned submits this letter in comment to the above project.

Our Mission and long-time involvement with Los Cerritos Wetlands:

“The mission of the El Dorado Audubon Society is the conservation of native birds and their habitats. The society provides leadership in conservation and educates its members and the community, so that they may appreciate birds and participate in the society’s conservation efforts.”

In keeping with our mission, El Dorado Audubon has been an active member of the Los Cerritos Wetlands Authority’s Stewardship Program since 2009 and has led educational bird walks for the public at the Los Cerritos Wetlands since 1979.  In addition, for years we have conducted regular bird counts and surveys at the wetlands.

Our current work at the wetlands also includes participation in the restoration planning public process. We have provided comments and suggestions throughout the conceptual planning process and any proposed restoration.  In general, per our mission, we are in support of good restoration efforts not only to conserve habitat for native birds and wildlife but also to restore habitat whenever possible.   We have prepared a list of concerns (set forth below), for which we regularly have meetings directly with the project proponents to discuss.  It is important to note many of our concerns have been addressed, and some are topics of ongoing communications.

El Dorado Audubon’s Wetlands Restoration/Oil Relocation Project On-going Concerns:

1.   Recreation

The goal of the Los Cerritos Restoration project is to create the best possible Southern California Wetland, i.e., a nature preserve NOT a recreational park.  As a nature preserve, its primary function is to protect rare biological resources and natural communities.  For this reason, only passive recreational activities (hiking, photography, bird watching and nature study) are appropriate.  Trails should be open to foot traffic only, of limited, non-intrusive width, and visitors must stay on them at all times.  Kayaks should not be permitted.

  • EIR describes 1 acre of parkland and picnic benches (originally 4 acres in DEIR but reduced in final EIR).  A better designation would be “outdoor educational center” as the actual intended usage was explained to EDA as more of an educational gathering spot by the parking lot, not a parkland or picnic area.  The FEIR describes about ½ dozen picnic benches, with gravel and native plant cover – is an acre really needed?  More details of how the acre would be used are needed in the EIR documents.
  • Public access trails, sidewalks, bike lanes along Studebaker Road:  The trail is described as 10’ wide decomposed granite.  More details of the sidewalk and bike path, and how access from the sidewalk and bike path to the wetlands will be controlled, should be defined in the EIR.  The 10’ wide trail should be reduced to 3’ to 5’ wide, as you would find on the Bolsa Chica Mesa Trail.  Like the Bolsa Chica Mesa public access trail area, the Studebaker “bluff” is also a relatively narrow strip of land.
  • Monitoring/limiting “recreational use” such as trail hours of operation, how the trails will be controlled and types of recreation is allowed, with the goal of minimizing human presence impacts to the habitat, birds and wildlife.

2. No project alternative

EDA believes that the current oil operations and infrastructure pose a greater risk to the remnant and functional wetlands, “Steamshovel Slough”, than the potential risks from the proposed reconfigured oil operations.   This plus the absence of the added, restored wetland acreage means that the “No Project” alternative is not a prudent approach.

3. Interpretive center

The proposed interpretive center offers a unique opportunity to educate the public about the importance of marshlands and wetlands, through illustrative displays of marsh habitats and the respective plant, animal, and bird life found in each zone and the larger web of life dependent on these essential habitats.  It offers further opportunity to illustrate the interaction of man with this particular marsh from Native Americans to the present, including how the greater marsh of which Los Cerritos is a remnant became degraded and, in a sense preserved ultimately by the oil industry maintaining open spaces and remnant marsh and wetland allowing plants and wildlife to survive.

4. Restoration

Wetland restoration is an evolving science.  Therefore, it is vitally important that the project undergo review and most importantly incorporation of any input from the various permitting agencies to ensure the best restoration possible.  We expect that the project proponent and permitting agencies will implement at a minimum, the following items:

  • Protect the existing marsh from sedimentation resulting from restoration activities.
  • Use native plant & marsh plant species only from our specific area, appropriate for the habitat types on the project area.
  • Ensure any upland habitat impacts are temporary and result in increased quality habitat for use by birds and wildlife.  All contamination cleanup uses best available methods.

5.  Synergy Office (on “Pumpkin Patch”)

We would expect that the construction of the office building incorporate:

  • Bird friendly building techniques (bird safe glass measures, shielded lighting, lights out at night to prevent bird strikes).
  • Native tree and plant landscaping.
  • Preservation and restoration of any wetlands resources on the property.

6. Marine life studies in the marsh

Baseline studies of fish and other aquatic creatures should be done pre-restoration to measure against post-restoration conditions.

7. Special Status of Marsh and Uplands

All of the area acquired by the Los Cerritos Wetland Authority including marine, tidal salt marsh, and upland components should be designated a “biological reserve” consistent with Section 4.4.8 of SEASP zoning.

In conclusion, we believe with careful planning and some modifications, the restoration of Los Cerritos Wetlands would be of great benefit to the birds, wildlife and the public.


El Dorado Audubon
Mary Parsell, President


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