Diamond Valley Lake, with two nature reserves, is a model for how progress need not come at the expense of nature. It sets a new precedent for public/private partnerships and raises environmental protection to a new level by focusing on entire ecosystems rather than individual habitats.
With the creation of the Southwestern Riverside County Multi Species Reserve, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California forged California's first agreement for multi-species protection. The reserve consists of 9,000 acres surrounding and connecting Diamond Valley Lake with Lake Skinner.
The reserve is home to at least eight types of habitat and up to 16 sensitive bird, animal and plant species. Metropolitan committed almost $14 million to reserve management and research to help protect and enhance sensitive species. The reserve management plan focuses on the regional ecosystem and requires the protection of habitats from human disturbance, the restoration and enhancement of sensitive native plant and animal communities, and the preservation of a mosaic of different-aged habitats to support many species.
The nearby Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve includes several basalt-capped mesas along the plateau's southern and eastern edges, which contain some of Southern California's last vernal pools (seasonal ponds) that support fairy shrimp, wintering waterfowl, and spring wildflowers. Creek beds running through the reserve contain deep holes called tenajas that hold water throughout the summer and nurture sycamore and willow trees, red-legged frogs and southwestern pond turtles.
Metropolitan joined Riverside County, the California Wildlife Conservation Board and the Nature Conservancy to purchase and protect 3,825 acres on the reserve. This agreement was one of 13 environmental projects nationwide in 1992 to receive a citation from the President of the United States.
Notable species include: coyotes, bobcats, mule deer, mountain lions, and golden eagles, which roam the breadth of the reserve; and a stand of Engelmann oak tees, labeled as the only protected reproducing stand of the species in the world.
The result? Metropolitan helped to preserve a slice of Old California for future generations, and received much-needed approval for a new storage reservoir to ensure southern California's dependable water supplies well into the future. When stakeholders care enough to work together, development and conservation can co-exist. In a very real sense, the Santa Rosa Plateau would not have survived if not for the Diamond Valley Lake project-nor would construction on the new reservoir have been allowed to proceed, if Metropolitan hadn't made a commitment to stewardship of Southern California's natural resources.