Building a Healthier San Gabriel River Watershed Day 2

September 19, 2008 § 3 Comments

San Gabriel River Watershed (from LA&SGR Watershed Council website - click for larger image)

San Gabriel River Watershed (from LA&SGR Watershed Council website - click for larger image)

 If it’s Wednesday and I’m in El Monte, this must be the second day of the Watershed Council‘s Building a Healthy San Gabriel River Watershed conference.  I neglected to mention earlier that day one concluded with a very delicious dinner at the recently expanded Rio Vista Park.  I’ll blog about that park very soon.

Day two had plenty of informative speakers – a bit more focused, less broad than day one.  Irma Munoz, of Mujeres de la Tierra, spoke on doing real community engagement, not just minority outreach.  Irma tells it like it is – especially how critical it is that we listen to and respect our stakeholders.  Munoz got quite a few questions from agency staff who (it seemed to me) wanted her to reveal the secret trick to making connections with the community.  There’s no shortcut for real respect and transparency and knocking on doors.  Travis Longcore, of the USC Center for Sustainable Cities, spoke about the false dichotomy between cities and nature (and local impacts on the Loggerhead Shrike also called the Butcher Bird).  Ken Schwarz, an environmental restoration engineer for Horizon Water & Environment, discussed changing approaches to flood control channels urban streams, including hopeful examples from Napa, Sonoma, and Ballona Creek.  He brought up an interesting aspect that I think is underappreciated locally – integrated channel maintenance(!) and restoration. With all our integrated plans, there hasn’t been much focus on how go about maintaining existing channels and rights-of-way to better restore ecological functions… hmmm… there’s a whole blog entry that we could do with that one… soon.  Ellen Mackey, the Watershed Council‘s native plant guru  Senior Ecologist, spoke about the importance of emphasizing locally native plants.  She’s been instumental in coming up with the very-native LA River Master Plan landscaping guidelines, mapping vegetation on the San Gabriel River, and is also looking at that pesky maintenance issue – by coming up with a site-specific park maintenance manual for park staff and the community.  I will try to get my hands on this and share it soon on this blog.

Climate change was the subject of the second panel, with Rich Varenchik of the California Air Resources Board giving a broad overview of the state’s plan to implement AB32.  It mostly boils down to a much needed massive energy-efficiency plan (with some some smart growth and low impact development thrown in.)  For me, the most interesting speaker of the whole day was Stefan Lorenzato of the state Department of Water Resources.  Lorenzato spoke about how climate change is shifting how we look at watershed management.  In the unpredicability of future climates, he stressed that we should move away from monitoring for static goals, and look at “gradients.”  Our strategy should create rich resilient mosaics, not monocultures.  He connected this with a look at unpublished research that he’s involved in that shows the roughness of various stream channels.  It turns out that, at some flow volumes/speeds, some vegetation (ie: willows) turns out to be less rough (which is to say, allows more stream flow volume) than bare channels.  This means that some vegetation in a channel doesn’t necessarily reduce that channel’s capacity.  I will try to track this study down and blog on it, too (gotta keep a list of the promises I make here.)

The day ended with a media panel: Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times, and Steve Scauzillo of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.  They each spoke movingly of growing up along the then “lush jungle setting” of the San Gabriel River and how their journalism has brought environmental issues to light.  The creek freak bloggers could learn a thing or two from these veteran journalists… especially about getting out a good “summary lead.”  I have to work on that.

Changing Historical Alignments of the San Gabriel River

Lastly, here’s an image from Eric Stein’s presentation on day one of the conference.  I blogged on this before, but didn’t have the visuals to show you.  The maps on the left show how the course of the San Gabriel River has changed over time.  Click on the image to download the full 17MB SCCWRP report.

Well… there’s was quite a bit more that went on at the conference… but that’s my summary of the formal high points.  The best informal aspects of conferences being those times where I get to catch up with many of the other creek freaks from throughout the southland.  I’m grateful to and looking forward to more informative events from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council.

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§ 3 Responses to Building a Healthier San Gabriel River Watershed Day 2

  • I just read your piece on the San Gabriel River conference and found the following excerpt, which worries me a bit…:


    Ken Schwarz, an environmental restoration engineer for Horizon Water & Environment, discussed changing approaches to flood control channels urban streams, including hopeful examples from Napa, Sonoma, and Ballona Creek.


    Roy van de Hoek went to the same conference you did, and we later attended a Working Group meeting for Ballona and the next day a Science Advisory Committee for the Ballona “restoration” — what Ken is talking about is NOT a hopeful example of anything, although the pretty drawings that look like what a historically functioning, un-straight-jacketed creek may have been like seem enticing.

    What is being proposed is a highly destructive plan that will kill much of the historical, genetic material still remaining in the Ballona Wetlands and kill off what the Army Corps of Engineers did not kill off the first time (with the ACOE’s help, again, by the way.)

    And while the creek’s shape would be changed from straight to curved under the plan, serious seawalls will still need to be (re)built in order to protect Playa del Rey and Marina del Rey from flooding.

    The most unscientific thing about this “plan” is that the “plans” have been drawn up without doing any sort of baseline surveys of species which currently call Ballona home. In other words, they have no idea what impacts would be to which species, sensitive, endangered or otherwise important to the ecosystem. And they don’t seem to care. Several of us have brought up this need for baseline surveys repeatedly, but have received nothing more than “we’ll do that during the environmental review.”

    We think that the surveys must be done first so that genuine restoration can take place ~ restoration that honors the life that has established and thrived during the past 50 (when the Marina was dredged from the historical Los Angeles River floodplain/marshlands) to 80 years and established an equilibrium, as well as significant biodiversity.

    Restoration needs to be driven by ECOLOGY, not engineering. Engineering needs to be LED by ecology and conservation biology.

    Also Leopold said,”The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: ‘What good is it?’ If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” [Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There, 1948]

    He also said, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” [Aldo Leopold A Sand County Almanac, 1948]

    You will be hearing much more, but we’re so disheartened by the daunting task ahead. DreamWorks and Wall Street (Morgan Stanley/Goldman Sachs are Playa Vista’s owners now) were nothing compared to the multi-government agency effort that we will have to defeat this time in order to preserve the Ballona Wetlands ecosystem.

    I just wanted to correct the record.

    ~ Marcia

    Marcia Hanscom
    Ballona Institute

    322 Culver Blvd., #317
    Playa del Rey, CA 90293
    (310) 823-7040 (telephone)
    (310) 448-1219 (facsimile)

    a biodiversity project of the International Humanities Center

    visit our:

    Shallow Water Nature Store &
    Library Corner
    (310) 578-5888

    in the Matilla Village Center
    corner/Culver & Vista del Mar
    Playa del Rey

    open Tues. thru Fri. 11 am-2:30 pm
    & Sa./Su. 9:30 am – 4 pm

  • Joe Linton says:

    Conference presentations are now online at

  • brthomas says:

    Paddleboaters support a cleaner, healthier San Gabriel River watershed!
    * San Gabriel River Kayaking and Canoeing Guide.
    * San Gabriel River Conservation and Recreation. (Set display options alphabetical 100.)

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