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Uprooting problem plants

City plans to fight destructive arundo in the Santa Clara River bed

Posted: October 15, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 15, 2013 2:00 a.m.

City of Santa Clarita Sustainability Planner Heather Merenda, seen here in the Santa Clara River wash Monday, touches one of the many willow tree cuttings planted in an attempt to replace arundo. Photo by Jim Holt.

City workers are gearing up to fight a tough plant that’s taking over precious Santa Clarita Valley watershed.

Arundo grows so fast you can almost watch it gain height — or so the urban legend goes. The truth about the non-indigenous grass, however, is just as horrifying, according to Heather Merenda, the city’s sustainability planner and expert on arundo.

“It’s invasive,” Merenda said on a visit Monday to the Santa Clara River wash near the McBean Parkway bridge.
“An invasive plant is something that doesn’t grow naturally in an area, and thus faces no natural predators or natural system to keep its growth in check.

“In this particular case, arundo is insidious because it’s a bamboo that grows from a root mat, and the root mat is essentially impermeable to floods and fire — and really anything that keeps other plants in check,” she said.

On Sept. 24, the Santa Clarita City Council approved a recommendation to pay a contractor $295,155 in grant money to get rid of arundo — or at least try. Since at least 2006 the city has tried repeatedly to rip arundo out of the Upper Santa Clara River watershed.

Another target of the city‘s plant eradication is salt cedar tamarisk, another non-native watershed plant.

By getting rid of both intruders, city officials hope to restore the Santa Clara River’s natural riparian habitat and, in the process, improve water quality, increase water supply and reduce the risk of flooding and wildfire hazards, according to the fact sheet prepared for council members by Travis Lange, Santa Clarita’s environmental services manager.

To date, more than 100 acres of the 297 acres of city-owned river property have been assessed for arundo and have been treated. The problem is that the destructive plant keeps growing back.

Workers burn it, cut it down with chain saws and wrap it with chains and pull it out with tractors, only to see it pop back up because of a root system connected in a mat under the ground’s surface.

A member of the bamboo family, arundo grows nine to 18 feet tall, though it occasionally towers to 30 feet tall, with leaves 11 inches to two feet long and up to 2 1/2 inches wide.

City workers are now employing a new weapon, said Merenda, a rival plant that promises to be just as robust and aggressive as arundo: Willow trees.

However, willow cuttings recently planted on watershed stripped of arundo remain dormant because of the ongoing drought, Merenda said. The arundo, however, keeps growing despite the drought.

The funds for arundo eradication comes from the city’s $333,231 share of $666,231 in grant money from Proposition 84. The rest of the grant money went to the Angeles National Forest invasive plant removal program.
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