Current State of the Lake
While we have plans to initiate restoration of the Lake as soon as possible, it will remain empty until the rains return. The only current means of refilling the Lake is to draw from the municipal water supply. Unlike a century ago, the artesian springs that once flowed into the Lake are no longer active due to a lowered water table. Also, the Lake more quickly loses water, possibly because the clay layer that once partially sealed the Lake has been compromised over time. Rather than continuously refilling the Lake like a leaking pool, we believe it is important for the Arboretum to demonstrate responsible water use, assisting both the City of Arcadia and the larger region in meeting conservation goals.
Please know that we are dedicated to restoring the Lake as wildlife habitat, historic site, and as an important educational resource. Achieving this goal will require the strong commitment and
support of County and State governments, which we are presently working to secure. Additional partners include the City of Arcadia and the other members of the Rio Hondo/San Gabriel River Water Enhanced Watershed Management Group. The next step is to complete a $400,000 engineering study to determine the best strategies and conceptual designs to accomplish restoration goals. These goals include:
- Cleansing of urban runoff received from the watershed to the north. As part of post-WWII residential development, neighborhoods to the north of the Arboretum were engineered to send their runoff to Tule Pond and Baldwin Lake. At present, we receive large amounts of runoff with each storm event, though this occurs with little mitigation of pollutants and carried materials.
- Deepening the lake bed to improve ecological health through moderating water temperatures.
- Stabilization of eroding shorelines that are currently contributing additional fill to the Lake during storm events.
- Restoration of the decorative stone retaining walls created in the 1880s that are integral to the Arboretum’s historic landscape.
- Finding new sources of water for the Lake, which could potentially serve as a reservoir to serve the irrigation needs of the Arboretum. We will also study ways to reduce the rate at which the Lake loses water to percolation.
Bringing Baldwin Lake back to its former beauty is among our most important goals at the Arboretum, and a key focus of our new strategic plan. You can help us to restore the Lake.
We ask your help in restoring Baldwin Lake, a beloved and magnificent part of our natural and cultural heritage. Please spread the word to friends and neighbors; take photographs of the Lake to share; and invite others to join us in restoring the Lake to its former ecological vitality and great natural beauty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why is Baldwin Lake important?
Answer: The Lake currently serves several important functions within the Los Angeles River watershed. It collects runoff from the San Gabriel Mountains, retains it onsite to provide filtration, recharge and habitat, and is a vital resource of educational, scenic and restorative value for the nearly 400,000 people who annually visit the 127-acre Los Angeles County Arboretum.
Q: What is current state of the Lake?
A: Over the years, the Lake has been impacted by severe sedimentation and inflows of urban runoff. It was originally 15-18 feet deep, but now has an average depth of 24 inches. Historic perimeter walls, dating back to the days of Arcadia’s founder, E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin, are collapsing as extremes in water levels compromise their integrity.
Q: What about wildlife dependent on the Lake?
A: Pasadena Audubon Society reports a decline in condition, productivity and bird use at both Baldwin Lake and adjacent Tule Pond over the last several years. Current shallow depths are not sufficient to sustain a healthy ecosystem. Recorded (historic) bird sightings have been reduced by 22%, and aquatic waterfowl numbers and variety have been dramatically impacted. Migratory species, some traveling hundreds of miles along the Pacific Flyway, have largely lost this important resource.
Q: Is the Lake natural or man-made?
A: The Lake site is a historically recognized geologic feature of the Raymond Hill Fault whose springs and sag ponds attracted early habitation by native Gabrielino/Tongva villagers. Baldwin Lake, excavated to its present size by Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin in the 1880’s, is a regionally-rare Lake that is the centerpiece of the Arboretum and an educational and scenic resource for its visitors.
Q: Why is it called Baldwin Lake?
A: The current name reflects the historic significance of the site as listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Lucky Baldwin was a significant figure on both California and national circuits, and both his guest house (“Queen Anne”) Cottage and an adjoining Carriage Barn are listed structures. Baldwin Lake is part of the associated historic landscape that provides scale and credence for the historic listing. In the words of a Los Angeles Times reporter (June 11, 1893): “I have seen a number of botanical gardens in different parts of the world, but there are few more beautiful than the grounds about this home of Lucky Baldwin. It is one of the prettiest places in the world, and every tree and shrub connected with it has been planted by his direction.” Baldwin deepened the natural lake basin in the 1880’s and constructed a landmark boulder-topped retaining wall, remnants of which are visible today.
Q: Will normal rainfall restore the Lake?
A: At best, winter rains may fill the shallow basin and create a temporary impression of health. In reality, a very heavy rain may overwhelm the collapsing perimeter walls to create flooding issues and accelerated erosion of the shoreline.
Q: What is the Arboretum doing about this problem?
A: The Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation provided funding for an initial Baldwin Lake Study (2012) which resulted in a strong recommendation for a comprehensive Engineering Study. As a first step, a Core Sediment Study was conducted in both Baldwin Lake and Tule Pond in 2015. We presently seek funding for an engineering study to determine the best approaches to restoring the Lake.
Q: Who is working to Save Baldwin Lake?
A: The Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation and the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks & Recreation are joined by the City of Arcadia, the local Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, local Audubon Societies, local historical societies and more.
Q: What can I do to help?
A: Help is needed to spread public awareness of the critical issues surrounding the Save Baldwin Lake effort. Sign up for updates on our website; contact local public officials with your concern; share the word with friends, family and neighbors. YOU can make a difference!