Fancy dancing at the Supreme Court

October 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

Once the election buzz has passed, angelenos can turn their attention to the Supreme Court for some creekfreaky argumentation.  Commenters – can you offer up interpretations of what this decision will mean for clean water in LA if the County has its way?  (feel free to also weigh in on how you feel about the County using its scarce resources for fighting interpretations of the clean water act when it’s under compliance deadlines.  All the way up to the Supreme Court.)

Explorations of the Colorado River #4: The Design Studio

June 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

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Done with our touring of the Colorado River (1, 2, 3) and speed-reading about its issues, my 2nd year graduate landscape architecture design studio dove into planning and design solutions for the river.  In the analysis phase, over and over, it was observed that the river ecosystem needed to regain its flooding and sediment dynamics.  And over and over, it was observed that the political, human dimension would almost certainly never allow that to happen -regardless of the ecological desert created at the river’s mouth, and regardless of the obvious and dire future of the watershed due to climate change, population growth, and accumulating pollutants (including radioactive spoils behind reservoirs ya’ll!)

Clearly designing for what humans want usually comes at an environmental cost.  The ecosystem loses!  Even when it’s billed as sustainable, it’s more likely the design is about incrementally less harm to the ecosystem.  So in this studio, designers were challenged with having the Colorado River as their Client.  How do you work to meet human needs within that mandate?  It becomes a much different conversation.  Since many students don’t wish to explore “visionary” projects (visionary of course being the polite synonym for politically impossible, er, unrealistic), the studio was structured so that students could also provide concepts that inch us toward’s the River’s restored state, accommodating more of contemporary human uses while weaning us from an unhealthy allocation system.   This combination of visionary plotting (mwaahaha) and phased steps towards rehabilitation put together make for a nice master plan.

You can read more about the studio and download most of the studio’s presentations at When the River is Client:  Design Explorations of the Lower Colorado River.  I hope you will! There’s some great ideas the students came up with.

 

Fracking in L.A.? (Workshops to be held on 6/12 and 6/13)

June 11, 2012 § 2 Comments

A Dimock, Pennsylvania resident lights their flowing tap on fire, a result of natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in a nearby field. While such effects may not occur as a result of petroleum well fracking, the shock-value of this image underscores the potential for groundwater contamination in any circumstance. (SOURCE: http://www.gaslandthemovie.com)

It is likely that many folks living in Los Angeles County are either entirely unfamiliar with hydraulic fracturing (fracking for short) or are under the impression it occurs only in distant places such as the Appalachian Basin (Marcellus Shale). This resource extraction process utilizes the high-pressure injection of thousands (and in some cases, millions) of gallons of water, sand and a proprietary blend of up to 600 chemicals (potentially including known carcinogens such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and/or formaldehyde) into deep wells to open fissures that enable natural gas to flow more freely out of the well. While the practice is primarily associated with the natural gas industry, fracking is also a method used by the petroleum industry as a means of squeezing more production out of what were previously thought to be exhausted wells.

Diagram illustrating the process behind hydraulic fracturing and, yes, the blue strip in the middle of the image represents an aquifer. (SOURCE: http://www.gaslandthemovie.com)

For the vast majority of Angelenos, it might come as a surprise to find out that there are two local petroleum wells, VIC-1-330 (Baldwin Hills, Plains Exploration & Production Company) and DOM-1 (Dominguez Hills, Occidental Oil and Gas), that have been fracked as recently as January of this year (SOURCE: FracFocus) and according to a recent report by Christine Shearer of Truthout, fracking has occurred in the L.A. basin for some time: « Read the rest of this entry »

A message from Heal the Bay

April 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

We received – and are forwarding –  an announcement by our friends at the Heal the Bay.  The following piece is from Kirsten James, HTB’s Water Quality Director.

The federal Clean Water Act turns 40 this year. Water quality has come a long way since 1972 but we’ve still got a lot of work to do to ensure that our waters remain safe and healthy. Our nation’s rivers are no longer catching on fire (e.g. the Cuyahoga River, circa 1969) but the battle for our creaks and rivers in Los Angeles rages on.

One of the pillars of the CWA is the stormwater permitting program. Municipal stormwater permits regulate all urban runoff discharge from separate storm sewer systems, so-called MS4s. Because stormwater is the No. 1 source of coastal pollution in California, these permits are a big deal for ensuring public health for those who recreate in our local waters. It’s also a major part of my job – ensuring that water quality regulations are as protective as they can be. And now ocean lovers have a major fight on their hands in Los Angeles County.

In 2001, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board adopted a municipal stormwater permit for Los Angeles County. The Regional Board is now considering a new permit for the county, after years of delay. As the board begins making critical decisions regarding the new permit, Heal the Bay is concerned about lobbying interests looking to weaken existing protections.

Board hearings over the summer will determine the fate of our local water quality for the next decade or more. We are at a fork in the road in terms of local water quality, with many cities and dischargers fighting hard to relax hard-won regulations that prevent them from dumping pollution into our waterways.

Our Regional Board can do the right thing and place strong protections (including pollution limits or TMDLs and low impact development requirements) in the permit. Or, they can make decisions that could result in dirtier water, and a higher risk of getting sick anytime you swim or surf. Heal the Bay will do everything we can to ensure that they make the right choice. We hope you will join us in the fight!

If you care about protecting the ocean and public health, we need you to make your voice heard. We need beachgoers of all stripes to attend a Regional Board workshop on May 3 designed to gather community input about local water quality regulations.

To fight for clean rivers, beaches and oceans, join our campaign: Taking L.A. by Storm (download flyer).

Attend the May 3 Regional Board workshop, the first of the hearings this summer, and let them know you want to be able safely swim at our beaches or fish in our rivers. Please help protect what you love.

To join us, RSVP with your name, email and ZIP Code.

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.

A tale of three wetlands

February 22, 2012 § 18 Comments

Image: City of Los Angeles

Los Angeles proudly unveiled a new 9-acre park in South Los Angeles featuring a wetland that, I’m told, taps into the stormdrain network.  And also receives tap water augmentation (although I don’t have the figures on how much).  This is a $26 million achievement funded via the City’s Proposition O.  The park helps to remediate not just stormwater but also a long-neglected imbalance in per capita park acreage for this South LA area compared with not only other areas of Los Angeles, but also compared to the city’s own planning standards. This constructed stormwater park is being celebrated in the media, here’s a few links:  LA Times, KCET, A/N Blog.  Everyone’s psyched to see a paved parking lot (bus yard) be turned into a natural paradise. « Read the rest of this entry »

Stormdrains from Tar Pits to Ballona

December 7, 2011 § 5 Comments

Los Angeles County Storm Drains in Google Earth

Since this post about tar on Ballona seems to have generated a lot of interest, I thought I’d also provide you with an image of LA County Storm Drains from the Tar Pits connecting to Ballona Creek.  « Read the rest of this entry »

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