Update: mudsnails, minutiae and the bigger picture

April 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

A quick follow up about my post last week, The trouble with mudsnails:  the LA Times article, which did a great job explaining the issues around the mudsnail proliferation, left out some details that help us appreciate how hard some of our NGOs are working behind the scenes to maintain healthy stream systems. Mark Abramson, featured in the article, was a part of Heal the Bay at the time the mudsnail problem was identified.  Heal the Bay took leadership on the issue, insisting that this was a problem worthy of a larger institutional response, kick-starting a multi-agency set of meetings, working with others to bring in mudsnail experts and come up with strategies to address the problem – including the development of warning signage, of which Mark Abramson noted in the article he has a few hundred that could be posted.  With the information from experts and other research, Heal the Bay’s StreamTeam also developed the protocols for moving in and out of streams to prevent the inadvertent spreading of mudsnails (and I can attest to the rigor, having gotten advice from Abramson at that time when I was part of a group surveying in Santa Monica Mountains streams, a lot of shoe-changing!).  The StreamTeam also stopped surveying to prevent the spread of the snails (at least until they got protocols under wraps).  It is not clear to me to what extent other agencies and organizations who monitor also adopted the protocols or altered their monitoring – the LA Times piece gave some people the impression that monitoring had continued after mudsnails had been observed and discussed.  Seeing the seriousness of the issue, protocols to prevent the spread of mudsnails are now a standard part of permits issued by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, where monitoring in these streams is required, i.e. for discharges.  What the poet Francisco X. Alarcón would call “una pequeña gran victoria” – a small, but great, victory.

Agencies and NGOs often play different roles in the “ecosystem” of LA environmental politics, so sometimes it is helpful to illuminate the steps taken by a single group to understand how hard everyone works to achieve even what may seem like small victories.  What may boil down to the public as a warning sign and fine print on a permit took hundreds (perhaps thousands if you count the man-hours of all the agencies involved) of hours of diligence, coordination, and passion. Multiply that several thousand times over to appreciate how hard environmental NGOs all over LA work for not only water quality and habitat, but also open space, environmental justice, clean air – you name it. If a nonprofit recently planted trees in your neighborhood, or created a school garden near you – there was a whole lot more involved than getting the plants in the ground.  And all those “pequeña gran victorias” add up to your quality of life.

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