Explorations of the Lower Colorado River #2: the River in Yuma

March 30, 2012 § 14 Comments

DWP-Driving while photographing. Looking upstream from Penitentiary Road.

I found myself in Yuma, AZ, looking down the banks of the Colorado River from the old Quartermaster’s Depot, a complex of old adobe and more recently constructed buildings with a bright green lawn in its large central court.  After a long drive through the California desert, the lawn was a little surreal, but not nearly as much as the sight of an irrigation canal I’d seen, flowing at full-tilt, through a nearby residential neighborhood.  It almost looked like any number of our flood control channelized waterways at mega-flood stage – except the sun was shining brightly upon us.  And like the flood channels, the irrigation canal was flanked by an access road and a bike path, although it was lacking the requisite chain link fence that Los Angeles liability lawyers would have no doubt imposed on the canal, as that baby was pumping.  And yet, even with tidy single-family dwellings dotting the street, it seemed barren, lonely.  The streets were absent people – pedestrians, children playing, bicyclists.  It was 70˚F outside.

Standing there, on the banks near a defunct stream gage, the dissonance between the earthtones of the desert, the hard greys and greens of asphalt and concrete and cars and lawn and monocultured lettuce fields, of industrial development’s footprint on the land and on this withered anemic river, whose water seemed almost still, made me a little dizzy.

But, unbeknownst to me, I was fighting a bacterial blood infection (and then some), so if my impressions seem fevered and lurid, well, it may have just been me – or Proteus OX-19.

But back to the river, and the Quartermaster’s Depot.

This, along with an old jail, are two of the oldest buildings in Yuma, on high ground, looking over the Colorado River. The Quartermaster’s is where mules were kept, hauling goods out of the steamers coming up from the Sea of Cortez (aka Gulf of California).

Is the visual of a steamship coming up this channel playing tricks with your mind?  « Read the rest of this entry »

Flowing by the Fairways 2: The Santa Ana River’s Riverview Golf Course

March 27, 2012 § 5 Comments

Egrets along the Santa Ana River in the middle of Santa Ana's Riverview Golf Course.

Kudos to Jessica on yesterday’s post about reaching détente between golf courses and healthy creeks. Her examples are instructive, but there’s at least one more somewhat interesting local example – on the Santa Ana River in Orange County. I alluded to it near the end of this earlier Santiago Creek post; the River View Golf Course contains Santiago Creek’s confluence with the Santa Ana River. It’s located near the intersection of the 5, 22, and 57 Freeways, not far from Anaheim Stadium (map below.) « Read the rest of this entry »

LA Creeks and Golf Courses – flowing by the fairways

March 26, 2012 § 6 Comments

It seems as though there’s almost always a creek on golf courses in Los Angeles – be it natural, concrete or underground.  And having proposed daylighting and restoration projects at a number of our local golf courses, I was happy to see this article, A Stream Runs Through It, published in the Golf Course Industry online magazine, supporting the idea.  I have found that golf courses and streams can coexist, but too often golf courses alter the stream, pushing it over the edge of the property, constraining it in ways that destabilize it, removing habitat, etc.  The management problems are often quite predictable.  The opportunity exists to design a golf course with an understanding of stream habitat and function, leading to a richer golf experience, fewer maintenance issues, and habitat for that remaining 5-10% of LA’s waterways.  Streams can separate greens, but when they traverse greens, they can become part of the play in interesting ways.

A couple of golf course/restoration locations I’ve referred to in Creek Freak posts include  Devil’s Dip (I promise a post on just the golf course and restoration potential there in the near future but here’s a slide from Creek Freak’s recommendations to Mark Ridley-Thomas about it.) and South Pasadena Golf Course.

A famous creek/golf course is the Arroyo Santa Monica through the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.  « Read the rest of this entry »

World Water Day: Remember the álamo!

March 22, 2012 § 3 Comments

El álamo (the cottonwood)

World Water Day is offering reflections and calls to awareness throughout the interwebs, and so I thought Creek Freak should join in:  Remember the Alamo!

Not the battle in Texas, but the cottonwood tree, stalwart denizen of riparian corridors throughout the West, including reaches of the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Santa Ana Rivers.  If you are in Downtown LA today, remember the álamo as you cross Alameda, whose meaning is “a corridor lined with álamos.”  Remember the álamo, as the message bearer of your river’s groundwater levels.  With the water’s decline goes the cottonwood -and how many more desert rivers (with or without cottonwoods) shall we destroy(1,2)?  Remember too, the álamo, as the bearer of shade, mediator of heat, whose stretching canopies touch and join to form bosques, offering the weary traveler relief.

In the bosque’s disarray, chaos rules

yet there is room for every living thing,

where things die, molt back to earth.

where things crack, give, break, show their fragile strengths

their beautiful humility,

there is no ego, no complaints, no expectations

just what are

the faces of our souls celebrating our brief passage

through life

-Jimmy Santiago Baca, Winter Poems Along the Rio Grande


1938 Floods Film Footage

March 20, 2012 § 5 Comments

Click on image to view flooding video at archive.com

Thanks to Will Campbell for bringing this to my attention. Newly released film footage of the 1938 floods is online at archive.org. A lot of the neighborhoods are difficult for me to identify, but, at about 2:36 there’s footage of the downed railroad bridge at the confluence of the L.A. River and the Arroyo Seco. It looks like the shot is from the now-110 Freeway bridge looking upstream toward what’s now the Riverside-Figueroa Bridge. Check it out!

Explorations of the Lower Colorado River, #1: Motivation & the Vaquita Marina

March 16, 2012 § 4 Comments

The Lower Colorado River’s been getting some good attention in the media lately(1, 2).  And Creek Freak Josh Link and I have also recently been exploring the river and its issues, and look forward to presenting a series of posts on the topic.

It all started for me with the vaquita porpoise.

In 2005 I was a watershed coordinator tasked with addressing issues of water conservation in the Ballona Creek watershed.  As odd as that may sound to people expecting a watershed coordinator to focus, on, say, the watershed itself, that’s how the grant worked.  Chalk it up to Bay-Delta politics.  That mandate, however, did me an eye-opening favor.  For as much as I understood that most of our water was imported, I’d never bothered to consider how those far-away places were impacted by our big straws.  A little self-education via Google’s search engine opened up a world of dessicated wildlands, endangered species, and amazement at how completely we lack perspective when we talk about water “demand”(1, 2). « Read the rest of this entry »

Events, events, events…

March 14, 2012 § 2 Comments

Folks, spreading the word:

Mañana – Thursday March 15, North East Trees celebrates the grand opening of the Garvanza stormwater park.  9 am, 6240 Meridian Street, LA 90042.  Congrats!

Next Thursday, March 22, Town Hall-LA is hosting a symposium titled:  Dry Winter?  Where Will Our Water Come From? with panelists including environmental experts Mark Gold (UCLA) and Tracey Egoscue (Egoscue Law Group), and water and agency managers Brendan Goshi (MWD) and Adel Hagekhalil (City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation).  In addition to the panel there will be speakers offering their thoughts on the subject:  James Clark (Black & Veatch), Andy Lipkis (Tree People), James Yanotta (LADWP), and Mike Antos (Council for Watershed Health).  Check it out here!

Also, site visits led by Long Beach city councilman James Johnson out at the former Willow Springs Gulch site continue – every 3rd Saturday at 10 AM.  Check out this nice video featuring my former student Merilee Atkinson, a docent at the site.

Urgent action needed: identify City of LA creeks for protection under ordinance

March 7, 2012 § 5 Comments

Creek Freaks, I am posting this message on behalf of Shelley Luce, Executive Director, and Mark Abramson, their Senior Watershed Advisor.  They need your help by Friday March 16.  I have my own comment to add following their request:

Send us your Streams and Creeks!

Calling all Creek Freaks! The Santa Monica By Restoration Commission needs your help identifying and locating streams and creeks in the City of Los Angeles. The City is creating a stream protection ordinance designed to protect the few remaining healthy creeks within the City limits. They have requested a list of streams and creeks that should be protected. We are asking all our friends and creek enthusiasts to send us pictures and locations of creeks within the City so that we can ensure their protection. If you have a favorite creek spot that you feel warrants protection please send the location (preferably latitude and longitude, a picture, and any information that you might have about the stream or creek. The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission will then visit these sites and compile a list of streams and creeks that should be protected for the inclusion in the City of Los Angeles’ Stream Protection Ordinance.  Please send any information to  smbrc@waterboards.ca.gov using the subject line Protect this Stream. Your efforts will help protect these few remaining special places for generations to come. « Read the rest of this entry »

Reflection on a seasonal treatment wetland concept for South Gate at the LA River

March 6, 2012 § 3 Comments

Concept plan. Click to enlarge.

Here’s a concept I developed back in 2002, while a staffer at North East Trees, that might interest the stormwater wetland folks.  A couple of posts ago, I reflected on how we really don’t need our stormwater treatment wetlands to receive artificial water supplementation – that we have regional seasonal wetland models to draw from.  Here was an early effort of mine to demonstrate that point.

We’d been awarded a project to develop a multi-benefit project between the L.A. River and the 710 Freeway at Imperial Highway.  Jurisdictionally, it was a complicated parcel of land – owned by South Gate, but also in the City of Lynwood, with Caltrans and oil company easements.

With the collaboration of ecologist Verna Jigour and engineer Mahmoud Vatankhaki, I proposed a seasonal wetland that would divert and infiltrate stormdrain flows from the adjacent neighborhoods.  We recommended excavating a basin area, with a seasonal riparian corridor leading from a stormdrain inlet.  A clay liner through the riparian corridor and wetland area would prolong the moisture transmitted via stormwater, while alluvial scrub would be suitable and durable in the infiltration area.  An overflow would tie into an existing outfall should storms ever provide more than the site could manage.  The project included overlooks from the bike path, and a short trail.  Upland habitat defined the perimeter and intermediary slopes of the property – the perimeter being bermed up with the excavated soil taken from the wetland areas – to minimize the influence of the 710 freeway, while grasslands plantings would reside over the oil pipeline to maintain access. The plant palette worked with the appropriate species for the available hydrology of the site.

We were initially awarded $2 million in funding to move this into construction – until Caltrans said no.  They needed the land for their up-coming widening project.  After I left North East Trees, the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy was able to purchase private land nearby and has revived the project on that site with NET – as covered by Joe back in 2008.  We’ll have to check in on the progress and report back – hopefully they are demonstrating what can be done with stormwater without drawing from distant aquifers.

Proposed Senate Bill to open up river access

March 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

Ready to ride the river?

I got a nifty email from Friends of the LA River Founder Lewis MacAdams the other day, informing rivvies of state Senate Bill 1201 that proposes to legalize access to the soft-bottom reaches of the L.A. River.  It will also create a Los Angeles River Interagency Access Council, which the Bill states is to

“coordinate the actions of state and local agencies with jurisdiction over, or otherwise involved in developing and administering public access and safety policies for, the Los Angeles River.”

It reclassifies natural-bottom flood channels as natural rivers, which is necessary to relieve local agencies of the responsibility (liability) for harm that occurs if someone is injured goofing around in “improved” rivers, er, flood channels.  I am really hoping this will open the potential for actual restoration of our concreted rivers as well – this liability being one of the big obstacles.  Maintaining flood capacity, of course, being the not-insurmountable other one.

You can download the Bill from the FOLAR webpage here.  Big props to FOLAR and UCLA’s Environmental Law Clinic who conceived of and drafted the bill.  And let Senator De Leon and his staff know how much you appreciate his efforts for moving this forward.

K bueno, no?


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