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Thousand Oaks

Park View: Fire and Water

Recent news has been dom­inated by two environmentally related events: fire and water. Northern California has been engulfed in numerous wild­land fires that are burning large swaths of forestland, while con­suming entire communities and towns. The State of California as a whole is in the throes of a significant drought, with future water supplies uncertain. South­ern California, and the Conejo Valley, are not immune from the impacts of either wildfire or drought. This includes parks and open space.

We are blessed with not only one of the best park systems a community could ask for, but also with an open space and trail system that is the envy of many. The fortuitous location of our community within a valley sur­rounded by scenic hillsides, in combination with smart plan­ning, land dedications and cre­ative funding, have contributed to provide for our parks and open space.

Yet, the natural beauty and value of these resources and recreational facilities are not retained by sitting idly. Regu­lar maintenance, advance plan­ning, resource management and financial prudence are par­amount, especially with the on­going challenges of devastating wildfires and periodic droughts.

In 2018 the Woolsey Fire burned through our communi­ty, destroying homes and dam­aging property, including parks and open space resources. The open space surrounding the Conejo Valley is largely covered by native vegetation, which is prone to wildfire. The ring of open space, so precious to us for recreation and respite, still must be managed. The early years fo­cused on planning and acquisi­tion, but now more on conser­vation and management. With ownership comes the responsi­bility of stewardship, which in­cludes balancing environmental protection and fire safety.

To ensure our community is protected, the Conejo Recre­ation and Park District (CRPD), the City of Thousand Oaks and the Conejo Open Space Con­servation Agency (COSCA) jointly contract for maintain­ing fuel modification zones on more than 250 acres of open space every year. While newer developments are designed with “fire-wise” landscaping and fuel modification on private lots sur­rounding the perimeter, many of the older developments were not so strategically designed, re­sulting in the need for ongoing fuel modification on open space lands.

In addition, COSCA recent­ly contracted with the Ventura Regional Fire Safe Council (ven­turafiresafe.org) to provide fire-safe outreach projects, property inspections and educational op­portunities through communi­ty events and other means. The goal of this program is to help our community “become more fire resilient, safer, and better prepared to withstand the threat of wildfire.”

The Calleguas Municipal Water District (CMWD) has de­clared a Stage 2 water shortage and called for 15 percent volun­tary reductions from 2020 water usage. The CMWD serves about three-quarters of Ventura Coun­ty, including the Conejo Valley. The CRPD is one of the largest users of water in the Conejo Val­ley and purchases water through four different water purveyors that deliver the water imported by CMWD from northern Cal­ifornia via the State Water Proj­ect.

CRPD implemented an ag­gressive drought response plan in 2014 with a target of using no more than 503 units per acre (1 unit equals 748 gallons); water use had increased to 659 units per acre in fiscal year 2013-14.

With an average rainfall of 8.40 inches since 2010, the need to irrigate park landscap­ing increased. Many passive turf areas in developed parks were converted to drought tolerant landscaping, while the turf in active play areas was retained. Irrigation systems were con­verted from broadcast spray to drip systems to reduce waste. The irrigation improvement projects at Sycamore, Glenwood and Lang Ranch neighborhood parks were recently completed during fiscal year 2020-21. For the twelve months ending in June 2021, a total of 442 units per acre were used by CRPD as compared to the target of 503 units. Not only has the drought response plan saved water and money, it has also reduced the need for weekly maintenance. (For more water conservation and usage information, see the CRPD website).

The CRPD and local agen­cies are investing resources in parks, open space and the community as their part in the wildfire and drought prepara­tion process. Please join CRPD and learn more about prepared­ness by contacting the Fire Safe Council and your local water purveyor. Being prepared for wildfires and droughts is a com­munity-wide responsibility.

Doug Nickles is a director/board member for the Conejo Recreation and Park District, the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency and the California Asso­ciation of Recreation and Park Districts. The views expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the district, agency or the respective boards. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]


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