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 »

Exploring the Bronx River

January 28, 2013 § 6 Comments

The Bronx River, as seen upstream from the Tremont Avenue Bridge

The Bronx River, as seen upstream from the Tremont Avenue Bridge

A couple weeks ago, I got a chance to bicycle a few miles of the Bronx River. It’s not unlike the Los Angeles River: a very urban, relatively industrialized freshwater river, in the process of making a dramatic comeback – with new parks and bike paths along its degraded banks.  « Read the rest of this entry »

Hurricane Sandy’s Jersey City Debris Line

November 2, 2012 § 6 Comments

(Note to L.A. folks: this former L.A. resident is now spending time living with my fiance in Downtown Jersey City. I’ll be posting occasional east coast pieces that I think may be interesting to L.A.’s Creek Freaks. For more information on recent changes at LACF, see this earlier post.)

I’ve spent the last month living in Jersey City, a place that was hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy. I am not going to go over all the damage done by Sandy nor the environmental factors likely responsible for second “storm of the century” in two years here… but I wanted to share one small observation about debris – because Sandy’s debris lines resemble those I’ve seen on the L.A. River after storms.

The good news is that my fiance and I are safe and dry, and suffered nearly no serious damage. We did have a day-long blackout, and train service is still out. Neighbors’ places flooded, but our basement stayed dry. At least right here on our street, near Hamilton Park in Downtown Jersey City, we got some strong winds but very little rain. The flooding issues here (and in nearby Hoboken, Manhattan, etc.) were the result of a surge of the waters of the Hudson River. The hurricane pushed water upstream, overflowing the banks and flooding low-lying areas. The surge added to already high-tide conditions on the Hudson – in this area a tidally-influenced river.

Hurricane Sandy’s debris line along a level contour at Jersey City’s Liberty State Park

After the storm, we bicycled around – stretching our legs and checking out downed trees and other damage. We frequently bike at Liberty State Park – a low-lying park along the Hudson, just west of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The park has great views of the Manhattan skyline. The park contains the Liberty Science Center, located on a small hill. Along the base of the hill (see above photo), we spotted a debris line running along a level contour around the hill. The river pushed its flotsam as far as it could, and then receded, leaving a telltale line.  « Read the rest of this entry »

This Week’s New Yorker Cover and the Future of Urban Environmentalism

August 23, 2012 § 4 Comments

Cover of New Yorker magazine 27 August 2012, artwork by Bruce McCall

This week’s New Yorker magazine cover, dated August 27th 2012, depicts a lush green Manhattan. It’s Times Square; there are tall buildings, green roofs, a waterfall, a river, grazing buffalo, a canoe, a horse, people sitting around. To me, it kind of looks kind of like paradise – a city in harmony with nature.  « Read the rest of this entry »

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.

 

What would Snow White say? Disney Ranch to culvert a small stream and cut down 158 oaks

June 4, 2012 § 5 Comments

Snow White’s animal pals are going to be missing some of their woodland at the new Disney campus:

“The Project would require the removal of 158 County Ordinance-protected oak trees, including 16 heritage oak trees, and encroachment upon an additional 82 oak trees, including 3 heritage oaks…” (EIR, V.F-72)

“The Project would permanently impact approximately 0.08 acre (1,181 linear feet) of ACOE/RWQCB jurisidictional area…The Project would permanently impact 0.63 acre of CDFG jurisdictional streambed and associated habitat…” (EIR, V.F-81) “ACOE/RWQCB jurisdictional area” is jargon for Water of the US/Water of the State-admittedly, more jargon.  In other words, blue line stream.  You may observe here that status as a Water of the US/Water of the State doesn’t ensure protection, despite many characterizations to that effect, when environmentalists battled to preserve the designation on the LA River.

Existing mapped floodplain area (Zone A at left) to be reduced through Development Area.

Also, while this is most likely the FEMA 100-year storm floodplain shown on this map, as creekfreaks already know, floodplains are an essential part of the stream system, reducing the space for it has negative consequences for stream health.

This, as the High Country News recently remembered the loss of the Arcadia Oak Woodlands, albeit for a different reason.  I am grateful that we’re not arguing about Placerita Creek.  But loss of tributaries and confining the main channel’s floodplain are worrisome.  I don’t have time to read and interpret the entire EIR just now, so just letting you know that this on the docket.  AND if you are in the Santa Clarita area, there’s a hearing tonight (June 4) about the project:

6-9PM

Hart Hall

Hart Museum and Park

24151 Newhall Avenue

Newhall, CA 91321

The public has until June 18 to communicate your thoughts on this.  Include photos of an angry Snow White.  Or maybe her evil stepmom (and not the glam one in the theaters right now), standing in the middle of her new ranch.

Comments go to

Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning

Special Projects Section, Room 1362

320 West Temple Street

Los Angeles, CA 90012

or email ctran@planning.lacounty.gov

Mirror, Mirror on the wall…

Based on this piece in the Whittier Daily News, Snow White’s pals will also have to hop around oil rigs on open space purchased with allocations from the County of LA’s Proposition A, which is a funding source designated for recreation, parks, and open space.

Where’s Princess Mononoke when you need her?

Strong Towns Critique of LID

May 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

Click to go to the Strong Towns article I’m talkin’ about

Creek Freak has written about LID – Low Impact Development. It’s basically a sort of “green building” standard that requires new buildings to detain and/or infiltrate rainwater. While I think that LID is a step in the right direction, at least compared to development as usual, it’s nowhere near the end of the work on getting to healthy creeks and streams.

I read a good concise critque of LID (also LEED and green building in general) at Strong Towns today. Strong Towns is a site I’ve been enjoy a lot lately; it’s written by an engineer who has a lot of common sense. He mostly critiques heavily car-centric development patterns.  « Read the rest of this entry »

Thoughts on a One-Way Morro Bay Watershed Sign

May 9, 2012 § 7 Comments

I just returned from a very enjoyable vacation in San Luis Obispo, California. I stayed in downtown SLO and, a few times, bicycled out to the Los Osos Oaks State Natural Reserve, about ten miles away. As I was bicycling west on Los Osos Valley Road a cresting a ridgeline, in the midst of agricultural fields, I saw this sign along the highway:

Watershed signage along Los Osos Valley Road

It reads “MORRO BAY ESTUARY WATERSHED / KEEP IT CLEAN / ENTERING.”  « Read the rest of this entry »

Explorations of the Lower Colorado River #3: The River in Mexico

May 8, 2012 § 12 Comments

An aerial of the Colorado River Delta Region taken during the drought of 1990. The Gulf of California is located in the bottom right, the Salton Sea in the top left. The bright green patchwork areas in the middle of the image are the Mexicali and Imperial Valleys. Between the tapestry of fields and the Sonoran Desert to the east, the dark green spot near the middle of the image is La Cienega de Santa Clara, the last remaining wetland of the Delta Region. (Image Credit: Alejandro Hinojosa)

Upon crossing the border threshold on foot at Los Algodones, we were met by the smiling faces of Osvel, Juliana and Isobet, the dedicated staff of Pronatura Noroeste. Our guides would prove to be among the most generous, hospitable people we have encountered in our travels. While absorbing the unfolding story of a lost river waiting to be found once again, we were simultaneously pulled headfirst into the ramifications of what we heard. Revelatory moments are scarce in an age of excessive information and we took care in absorbing a dose of pure, unadulterated perspective. At the end of the day, every blade of turf, every kidney-shaped swimming pool, every rinsed-off sidewalk, every broken sprinkler head, every drop of discarded greywater would forever hold new significance… « Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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