Smothering streams

February 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

Help!

The Rio de Flag: Help! (Photo S. Bergquist)

Today, you are reading the Southwestern Creekfreak, which has elbowed its way in on the LA Creekfreak.  While in Flagstaff recently to attend Tom Moody’s memorial, friends in Flag updated us on the looming public works project on the Rio de Flag.  The words “public works” (worse yet – “improvement”) in concert with “stream”, “river”, or “creek” don’t generally bode well for the waterway in question, and this is no exception.

The Stimulus Plan (the one on the news, like, constantly) has a line item in it that will bury the lower Rio de Flag.  That’s right, bury it.  Lay pipe or culverts in the stream’s bed, and place fill over it.  At the recommendation of (who else?) the Army Corps of Engineers.  That would be the LA District, folks, which prepares projects and permits over several southwestern states.  Our local-right-on-Wilshire Blvd-office of ACOE.  The same office that is studying the LA River and Ballona Creek to see what they can undo of the phenomenal environmental destruction earlier generations of their office wrought.  

Schizophrenia to say the least. 

The Corps has a range of programs through which they provide services to local governments.  Here in the LA Basin, we work a lot with their planners who focus on environmental restoration.  They do complicated analyses to recommend a restoration plan that gets the most credits based on science, economics, and gov’t priorities.  This doesn’t always translate into the most ecologically functional or sensitive plan – it may mean that they are managing a site more intensively for a particular endangered species, or other objective that the government gives big points to – but it can result in good work, and if their preferred alternative is also the local stakeholder’s then we can get a lot of federal help for implementation.

Whatever program the Corps used to consult with Flagstaff came up with an assessment that preferred burying the Rio de Flagstaff over installing new bridges.  I can only guess the Corps’ formulas don’t value the natural functions of a stream very highly.  With the preferred plan of laying pipes, the Corps offers total federal financing of the project.  If Flagstaff were to choose the bridges alternative, I’m told they’d have to raise about 50% of the funds themselves.  The path of least resistance is easy to see in this scenario.  

How many other streams does the Corps want to smother with this Stimulus Package?  

Protection of natural resources – especially our waterways – needs to be a consistent priority – not just something you care about after you’ve jacked it up.  Piping a stream should never be an alternative, and certainly not a preferred one. As an aside, nor should an agency that prefers to pipe a stream have regulatory authority over Clean Water Act permits pertaining to the dredging and filling of waterways and wetlands!  Folks, we seriously need some other agency to develop and manage the projects that involve our waterways.  

Is the potential damage to streams through the Stimulus Package even on the White House’s radar?  After waiting patiently for 2+ years for support and action on a draft stream protection ordinance that was sitting on the desk of then-LA City Deputy Mayor of the Environment Nancy Sutley (now head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality), I wonder indeed.

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