Rewilding the Ballona Watershed

April 22, 2018  •  1 Comment

by Bev-Sue Powers

Last weekend, I went on a four-stop bus tour that concluded a weekend workshop designed to imagine the most opportune ways to re-wild the entire Ballona Watershed. One of the stops was at Esperanza Elementary, a grade school in the middle of the Ballona Watershed. My first impression was, "These poor kids! When did schoolyards become completely covered in asphalt & concrete?" As the principal led me & the group I was with around, my thoughts transitioned from dismay to utter amazement.  In the past few years, the principal has been leading the mission of "rewilding" the campus by replacing asphalt and concrete with native plant gardens, a corner here, a fence line there, a little more each year. By design, this rewilding of the school yard is with full participation of the students, their teachers, and families.  Virtually all of these kids have grown up in apartments surrounded by asphalt and concrete with little to no access to being in nature during their formative years. 

What happens when native plants show up?  Other natives in the food chain start showing up! Insects, butterflies, lizards, snakes, rodents, & birds. In fact, the curriculum in all grade levels requires daily nature observations by all 800+ students. For most, these daily observations serve as their first exposure to nature. In addition to learning the native plants and the critters that are drawn to those plants, the kids use Cornell University’s eBird "bird checklist". The school’s current checklist contains almost 50 species of birds the kids have spotted within the school grounds. They even had a burrowing owl winter in the courtyard tree one year! How many reading this article can identify over a dozen native plants, critters and birds, and how each fits in the food chain?

One of the daily observations posted on an Esperanza bulletin board.

 Esperanza’s eBird Checklist, which grows over time.

Originally, the Ballona Watershed was filled with meandering rivers and streams as shown (see Watershed image).  Ninety percent of the water was naturally absorbed, with 10% running out to the ocean. Now, the Ballona Watershed is reputed to be the most concrete-and-asphalt-covered watersheds in California.  It is literally a pipe-shed with 90% of the water flowing out to the ocean, and around 10% naturally absorbed.  Imagine if the watershed was your body and the meandering streams and rivers were your veins. How responsive and resilient to climate changes would you be if 90% of your fluids were piped outside of your body, your body and limbs were encased in concrete and asphalt, and every orifice was force-fed various forms (liquid, air, solids) of toxic pollution. Likely, you’d be in ICU on life support, near death.

The blue lines on the map represent earlier streams.

Source: Jeanette Vosburg,

Nature’s vitality is in dire straits.  In the coming years, we need to help restore and nurse mother earth back to health. We cannot survive without her.  Begin to imagine how we can re-wild our precious watershed and turn it back into a natural treasure. Use Esperanza’s vision as a start on imagining ways to re-wild our precious watershed. Business as usual will continue compounding our very precarious existence.  Every Day is Earth Day.


At the close of the “Rewilding Ballona Watershed” workshop, I shared a dream I had from about a year ago.  It gave me insights on the shift in perspective needed in order to truly rebalance our hearts, our minds, and our planet in a way that treasures and heals all. Enjoy.

Last Night's Dream

By Bev-Sue Powers, 07-17-2017

I was at an evening gathering, a celebrity celebration of sorts.   The topic of the evening seemed to be celebration of successful resistance to suppression and disenfranchisement. A man who looked and acted like Kevin Hart was the apparent MC.

Chairs were few, with most were standing around the hotel ballroom’s small bar-high tables throughout the room. I was with a few friends, one of whom was a tall, older, elegant, black woman who was very tired of standing. As she was expressing her discomfort, she turned to us and mused with discontent, "I don't want to celebrate what we overcome anymore.  Instead I want to discuss how we're building a more equitable world in every conversation. .  I want this topic to inform and engage everyone at all levels even more than we discuss shopping or food, or how unequal everything is.  I'm done with that.  And we need to weave this framing into everything we do and every conversation we have, every moment of every day, whether we're by ourselves lost in our own thoughts, or with each other: 

"How is this thing we're doing in this moment creating more balance, peace, and equality with each other, within ourselves, and with the natural world? If the answer is 'is isn't,' then we must stop the conversation right then and there, and shift the conversation to the former, every day, and in every moment and in every conversation, and every internal dialog.  And we must start NOW."

I was stunned at the simplicity of, yet profound impact this approach would have if adopted immediately by everyone, and spread as a pattern until it's the new norm.  As I was still absorbing the enormity of what she said, I spotted one of the few chairs that looked like it might have a good view of the stage, so went to test it out for her.  Just as I sat, the MC spotted me and asked everyone to celebrate me.  I had no idea what he was calling me out for.  But I realized that this was one of those moments.  I waived to my friend to come sit in the chair and encouraged her to engage the MC and the entire room in what she had just said to our smaller group.

I woke up feeling hopeful and engaged with ideas of new possibilities of how to change our culture and the planet’s dire circumstances, a person at a time, a moment at a time. 





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