Water is a Living Archive: Examining myths of where various urban streams come from: Pt. 1: Kellogg Creek

July 2, 2014 § 3 Comments

Have you ever heard rumors that water in various urban streams in Los Angeles originates in significant part from irrigation runoff?

It’s true that car wash and irrigation runoff are often seen flowing into storm drains. Dry season (summer) is the time these activities are most likely to take place. In the case of the Los Angeles River, a good deal of the river’s dry season flow comes from point source discharges rather than groundwater: one report says this figure is about 80% (Arup, 2011). Point sources include storm drains which convey irrigation runoff and carwash runoff, but also effluent from wastewater treatment plants. Flow data collected in 2000-2001 by Stein and Ackerman (2007) indicated that on the average, half of dry season flow in the Los Angeles River originated as effluent from wastewater treatment plants and half from storm drains.

As Josh Link puts it, the Los Angeles River, the end of pipe destination for a good deal of imported tap water, is effectively a  « Read the rest of this entry »

Garcetti Announces US Army Corps Support for $1B LA River Plan

May 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti shakes hands with US Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Kim Colloton at today's press conference in Elysian Valley.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti shakes hands with US Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Kim Colloton at today’s press conference in Elysian Valley.

Earlier today, Mayor Garcetti announced U.S. Army Corps of Engineers support for Option 20 – the most ambitious of various USACE projects for L.A. River habitat restoration. For more of the story, including some impromptu Lewis MacAdams poetry, see my article today at Streetsblog Los Angeles.

Pacoima Wash Greenway Moving Forward

March 19, 2014 § 1 Comment

The City of San Fernando's 8th Street Park along the Pacoima Wash. It's looking good, ready to open soon, and will be a future entry point for the planned Pacoima Wash greenway.

The City of San Fernando’s 8th Street Park along the Pacoima Wash. It’s looking good, ready to open soon, and will be a future entry point for the planned Pacoima Wash greenway.

I am blogging full-time over at Streetsblog L.A., so not posting much here at L.A. Creek Freak (excuses, excuses), but I thought Creek Freaks might like this article I wrote. The city of San Fernando is moving ahead on its 1.6-mile greenway along the Pacoima Wash.

Earlier Creek Freak articles about this include this intro to Pacoima Beautiful’s efforts, and this exploration of San Fernando’s 8th Street Park, which is due to open in the next couple months.

“Make Friends with Floods”

March 15, 2014 § 6 Comments

Kongjian Yu, ESRI GeoDesign Summit 2014

Kongjian Yu, ESRI GeoDesign Summit 2014

A couple weeks back,  I attended the 2014 GeoDesign Summit at ESRI, in Redlands. I was incredibly inspired by  examples of how GIS has been used by people in different fields from all over the country and all over the world to aid in analysis of a wide range of issues. Presentation topics ranged from urban economic development, to  vegetation patterns that maximize passage of wildlife, to the layout of services in Latin American favelas.

One of the most memorable talks was the keynote address by Kong Jian Yu, founder of Turenscape.

Yu is a rock star of Landscape Architecture. Most of his firm’s work is in China. My favorite are the wetland landscapes that merge urban form with  ecological esthetics. These landscapes have strong visual and experiential component but also are designed to maximize ecosystem services. Central to the provision of ecosystem services in a country where 75% of surface water is polluted, is the cleaning ability of wetlands. Other ecosystem services provided by wetlands include flood control, habitat, photosynthetic output, carbon sequestration, sediment retention and cultural and recreational value. Wetlands are only one component of “ecological infrastructure,” an infrastructure that promises to minimize management intervention while providing this wide range of benefits. Where natural wetlands have been removed, restored or constructed wetlands can still provide some of these services. This is in contrast to built infrastructure projects of the last century, typified by encasing rivers in concrete channels, which are designed to maximize one single thing: transporting stormwater quickly to the ocean.

Ecological Infrastructure. Kong Jian Yu at ESRI's 2014 GeoDesign Summit

Ecological Infrastructure. Kong Jian Yu at ESRI’s 2014 GeoDesign Summit

Kong Jian Yu at ESRI's 2014 GeoDesign Summit

Kong Jian Yu at ESRI’s 2014 GeoDesign Summit

In China, Yu advocates that ecological security is a matter of national security. Landscape planning is a matter of national defense. Ecological infrastructure must be invested in, developed and maintained.

Over thousands of years, China has struggled with devastation caused by flooding. Like in southern California, China’s flooding issues have been related to population growth, devegetation, and pressure to develop the landscape in a way that compromises its ability to provide flood control.

In his doctoral dissertation work at Harvard, Yu used GIS mapping and analysis to show that despite the country’s recurrent struggles with flooding, that flooding actually only affects 2.2% of China’s surface area. If flooding only takes up 2.2% of the land, then is it possible to simply “make friends with floods” and accept the fact of flooding? One could simply reserve these zones for flooding, develop elsewhere, and not have to worry about flood damage anymore.

Yu made it sound so simple. Though comments from the audience acknowledged the perils of the top-down style of planning that occurs in China, I was still inspired by Yu’s ideal of how ecological infrastructure can integrate science-based approaches to land management with a new esthetic that embodies ecological values. 

What would an ecological esthetic look like in Southern California? Our plants and seasonal cycles are charismatic– but in a subtle way. Our esthetic might be about how shades of  rust and silver transform into various shades of green after the winter rains.  Or  how every rainy season tells a different story, and how that story is told through the composition of wildflowers we see in the spring as well as in the way water chooses its own path through the alluvial plains. How can southern California make friends with floods?

Proceedings from the 2014 GeoDesign summit can be viewed online. Yu’s presentation can be downloaded here.

Woodman Avenue, Bicycles and Fish

February 28, 2014 § 3 Comments

Rainfall makes a creek out of the newly completed Woodman Avenue green street medians.

This morning’s rainfall makes a creek out of the newly completed Woodman Avenue green street medians.

I just posted an article at L.A. Streetsblog that wouldn’t be out of place at L.A. Creek Freak.

It’s the first part of a series where I’ll be exploring the connections between streets and creeks. I’ll be highlighting various green street projects, this article shows off the recently opened  Woodman Avenue Multi-Beneficial Stormwater Capture Project – a collaboration of The River Project and the City of Los Angeles.

Joe’s Returning to L.A. to Write Full-time for Streetsblog

January 29, 2014 § 7 Comments

The Hackensack River in Jersey City, NJ - near its confluence with the Passaic River

The Hackensack River in Jersey City, NJ – near its confluence with the Passaic River

Apologies to all our readers for putting up with very very little in the way of near material here at L.A. Creek Freak. Life circumstances took both Jessica and I out of L.A. a couple years ago. We love L.A. and her creeks and streams, but it’s difficult to keep in touch with them from afar.

I am happy to announce that I am on my way back. I’ll be returning to L.A., with my sweet wife and my 6-month old daughter, and, as of mid-February, writing full-time for L.A. Streetsblog. Streetsblog focuses on walking, bicycling, and transit issues in Southern California. When Jessica Hall and I were first starting L.A. Creek Freak, back in 2008, we discussed wanting LACF to do for water issues what LASB does for transportation issues.

I am looking forward to including a fair amount of L.A. River coverage in my Streetsblog writing. Creekfreaks may want to check out my Streetsblog article yesterday musing on how city park and transportation departments might work together better to extend L.A.’s greenway facilities including the L.A. River bike path« Read the rest of this entry »

“Grondwater word hier gebruik”

January 18, 2014 § 3 Comments

Recently, I was lucky enough to visit the Cape region of South Africa, a mecca for plant nerds, and during my last couple hours in Capetown, I had the pleasure of visiting the studio of artist/designer, Porky Hefer, maker of suspended tree pods inspired by the nests of local weaver birds.

His studio is in part of a former farm compound in Oranjezicht, a neighborhood on the side of Table Mountain, within walking distance of downtown Capetown. Table Mountain is to Capetown what the Empire State Building is to New York City. It towers above the city with its top often bathed in a cloud. The changing appearance of mountain, light and rolling clouds provides a show I found endlessly inspiring. The mountain itself is even more awe-inspiring in that it is a world renowned center of biodiversity right in the middle of a very cosmopolitan city.

Table Mountain, seen from Oranjezicht

I was charmed by  a modest water feature next to the discrete entrance gate to Porky Hefer’s studio. The fountain was labeled with a sign that said ‘Grondwater word hier gebruik.’ Though not running, the fountain was built to feed into a brick-lined rill, and as I walked through the studio compound, I noticed the rill appearing mysteriously in other areas of the compound.

When Porky returned from his appointment, he filled me in on the whole narrative of this water. From the first water fountain, water flows into the rill that I first saw. Then it rounds a corner, runs under a door, through a corridor, and into a brick-lined watering hole from which horses once drank. After offering the animals a drink, it runs down a couple stairs, and fills a small courtyard pool, whose reflective surface picks up the movement of the wind. After this thoughtful pause, it flows through another corridor and under a wall to connected properties, where I supposed there were gardens or orchards to be watered.

I loved the sequential integration of direct streamflow into the daily activity of a farm-turned-studio.

Grondwater word hier gebruik

water flows into the rill, where it rounds a corner…

runs under a door, through a corridor….

and into a brick-lined watering hole from which horses once drank…

after offering the animals a drink, it runs into a small courtyard pool, whose reflective surface picks up the movement of the wind…

it flows through another corridor and under a wall to connected properties…

It ends up that springs that flowed from Table Mountain inspired Khoi people to call this area ‘Camissa,’ the ‘place of sweet waters’ (where sweet means drinkable). These springs are the reason Capetown developed here. Oranjezicht springs were among the first sources of water for Capetown. Though most of the springs were eventually routed underground, Table Mountain still supplies 5% of the city’s water. The water of Table Mountain is the source of drinking water at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, where it is treated with nothing more than ozone.

Reclaim Camissa is an initiative founded by Caron Von Zeil to bring to light and celebrate the Camissa water system. Its poetically named pilot project, Field of Springs, embodies the potential of urban waters to seamlessly bridge utilitarian, ecological, and cultural life. This project was included in Capetown’s successful bid to become  World Design Capital for 2014. With Capetown in the design community’s eye, it will be wonderful if this initiative can be brought closer to implementation and inspire visionaries in other cities.

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