I’ve never found Berkeley’s Aquatic Park very appealing: the constant freeway noise, and the occasional loud train passing by, don’t make it a relaxing place, or one where I feel in tune with nature. But lots of birds don’t seem to mind. I’ve seen over 400 birds on the water there at one time, during migration season. The place hosts coots, bufflehead, grebes, herons, egrets, bitterns, and many other birds. It has its problems, though. The park has only tiny amounts of marsh (and thus few wetland birds). Water quality is pretty low, and summer temperature spikes and algal blooms and die-offs can eliminate dissolved oxygen and kill the fish that the birds depend on.
The City of Berkeley has gotten a $1.5 million grant from the Coastal Conservancy (a state agency) to do “habitat improvement” at Aquatic Park. A consultant hired by the City suggests that the lagoons provide most of the habitat, and has proposed some changes to the water circulation that should improve the circulation with the bay and thus the water quality. Several people I respect, including Mark Liolios of Aquatic Park EGRET (a volunteer group that does habitat restoration and education), think this is a waste of money, and would rather see the money spent on native planting, removal of invasive plants, and so on. However, a Coastal Conservancy staffer agreed with the consultant that the open water portions of the park are most important and that improving the lagoon water quality should be a priority; this assessment does not have legal force, though.
When I was a Berkeley Parks and Recreation Commissioner, through early 2007, I was on the Aquatic Park subcommittee and thus had an official role in helping determine what happens at the park. Now, I’m just another concerned citizen…but I’ll still be at the next Aquatic Park Subcommittee Meeting, Thursday, January 17, 2:30-4:00, in the Redwood Room on the 6th Floor of the Berkeley Civic Center (on Milvia Street downtown). The meeting is open to the public, and there will be plenty of opportunity for comment. Please come out if you have relevant experience or opinions.