One Billion Dollars
February 17, 2023 § 5 Comments
One billion dollars distracted me big time today. Well that was yesterday now. And yes, this is about water and ultimately, our creeks and rivers.
Let that be a this-is-a-long-post alert.
One billion is a huge number! It’s 1,314 homes at LA’s median selling price at this minute. It’s 6,973 median-priced hotel rooms (purchased, not rented). It’s 80-100 acres of land zoned manufacturing or industrial in the Valley. Porous, highly infiltratable to groundwater, land.
But yesterday it was reported by LA Waterkeeper that $1 billion of your LA County Measure W tax funds have, over the past 3 years, yielded:
- 30 acres of land unpaved (confusingly, they also noted that there was paving added, for a trail – ok – and also a basin liner – ? – yielding a net depaving of about 2.8 acres)
- the potential to capture 394 million gallons of rainfall runoff (which is about 1,209 acre-feet) if it rained all day (which it rarely does)
- 4,280 trees
For $1 billion.
What would I expect that to cost?
- the cost to plant a tree is about $210 (per Caltrans, 2023)
- Unpaving, if it is targeted as rain gardens, would cost about $40-50/SF – and a lot less if it is just “unpaving”.
Well that adds up to $66,238,800 for “unpaving/rain gardens” 30 acres and 4,280 trees, or about 6% of that one billion. If you look at how much water the rain gardens could have captured you’d have needed about 65 acres total for equivalent runoff capture. And that would be $143,000,000.
So if you really took a real “nature-based” approach to managing stormwater (which should maybe just be called a watershed approach – there’s a reason that jargon fell out of the water world lexicon), I’d be expecting about $857,531,200 leftover, for equivalency.
Eight hundred fifty seven million five hundred thirty one thousand two hundred dollars.
So a clue to where all that other money went lies in the runoff statistic. Whether or not that acreage captured much runoff, we do know that the region has a fetish (painfully elaborated upon here and here) for diverting water out of
stormdrains buried streams and pumping it to sewage treatment plants for subsequent pumping to infiltration basins. We call that stopping rain from being “wasted” by going out to sea.
So yeah, a lot lot lot of money for pipes and pumps and a little green fluff on top sounds like a likely scenario. Or as LA County says, “These projects can be large stormwater capture facilities that infiltrate into groundwater, store and treat water before releasing the cleaner water to downstream rivers, or diversion projects that transport stormwater to existing sewer treatment plants for recycling, creating a new source of water supply. The program prioritizes projects that utilize nature-based solutions, projects that use natural processes to mimic the natural water cycle by slowing, detaining, infiltrating or filtering stormwater.”
I don’t know how you prioritize natural processes and diversions to the sewer system or basins at the same time.
I googled a featured exemplar project (that’s the report’s word), at Edward Vincent Jr. Park in Inglewood. Centinela Creek was once a perennial creek at this location. (Yeah, you know that’s why I chose this project to examine.) In fact, the creek was fed by artesian springs back in the day. There’s even a little marker memorializing it in the park. The proposal has a design fee of $4.27 m and a proposed construction cost of $42m.
My notion of nature-based and natural processes here would be: daylight the creek! What defines a creek is its geomorphic processes, how they dissipate energy through their stream geometry and relationship to the vegetation on the banks – how they shape and maintain their channel form – let the conveyance of water and sediment shape and maintain the channel and floodplain! Design the floodplain to coexist with recreational facilities that can be closed when it is raining. Let the floodplain flood, and by so doing, slow water down allowing for passive groundwater recharge. No pumps, no electricity, lower maintenance on the mechanical side. The stormwater traversing soil and vegetation also improves its water quality. Have you heard about the hyporheic zone? It’s kind of like the gut bacteria of a stream – and when supported it can play an incredible role in polishing water quality.
But nope, that’s not the plan. Instead we have a hydrologic Rube Goldberg machine in which incoming stormwater is diverted to an infiltration bed, then apparently pumped via a lift station to a “dry creek channel” (this is not a creek – it is a faux arroyo aka fauxrroyo. See above for what real creeks do and are) which then goes to a bioretention area which is presumably meant to look like a wetland – are you still with me? – to then be returned at the downstream end to the flood control channel/storm drain by which I mean concreted and very unrestored stream. Like I said, pipes and pumps with green fluff.
I do kind of lose it when I see this. It’s partly about the money, but it’s also about how that expenditure takes less expensive, more truly integrated options off the table. Here’s some projects and numbers for context:
That design fee alone is more than what it cost for the entire renovation of Johnny Carson Park in Burbank including naturalizing its creek, which I was involved in (as staff at RDG and a sub to MIG/Ahbe) at its early stages. The creek was 885 ft long there and had previously been a finger of the Tujunga Wash, locked in decorative concrete since the 1970s.
It probably cost about $2,000-$2,300/LF to naturalize the “Little Tujunga Wash” creek. So, to play some more cost estimating games, let’s add some $$ because Centinela’s a more complicated stream, let’s say $3,000/LF. That would be $6.8 million, which I needn’t tell you is a LOT less than $42.4 million. But everyone cranks on about how expensive (and impossible) stream restoration is.
(Digression: using that restoration cost metric, how many stream – not river – miles could you get out of $1 billion? About 63. Miles.)
I can’t promise you that a daylighted and naturalized Centinela Creek channel would result in test tube water quality results that meet the region’s TMDL requirements. But I can tell you that the runoff entering into Edward Vincent Park is mostly from residential areas, not generally considered the highest contributor to poor water quality. Just downstream however are highly paved industrial and highway commercial areas – and that Rube Goldberg machine will be dumping its ostensibly polished water into the mess of nonpoint source pollution that such land uses generate. But the “water quality cost effectiveness” of the project was rated at 81% by someone. It won’t recharge groundwater. Despite this being an already pretty leafy park, the proposal is considered something that would reduce the urban heat island, and despite the decidedly contrived mechanisms of the project, it claims to “mimic natural processes to slow, detain, capture, and infiltrate water” and “use natural materials including soils and native vegetation.” Dude, soil?
Another project I worked on recently with the Waterways Restoration Institute proposed naturalizing a 900’ long channelized creek in a city park in Sebastopol. It’s new length, with proper stream geometry, would be about 1,200’. We completed a preliminary geomorphic assessment including a basis of design using available hydrology data, and developed a landscape concept plan. The City has given us go-ahead to seek grant funding and I can tell you that our proposed fee to complete all related design tasks is substantially less than $4.27 million. And I have little doubt that implementation will fall far short of $42 million. LA deserves more parks with creeks like this in it. LA’s people deserve it.
In a world of possibilities, where we truly get watershed processes that flow and shape the land and provide free benefits to us in the form of groundwater, recreational land, habitat, natural cooling… I was part of a team (led by The River Project and including Balance Hydrologics, GHD, and with SALT helping out on public and agency outreach) doing a feasibility study to restore the LA River in the Sepulveda Basin. We were awarded a grant of $161,750. That was for 8 miles of the river and its tributaries, for revisioning over 1,800 acres of open space including park land. There were no Rube Goldberg machines. We estimated that with reestablishment of real natural river processes, specifically geomorphic processes that include flooding (and the creation of floodplains), groundwater infiltration could be increased by a factor of 5. We also demonstrated that stormwater detention and storage could be increased by about 20%, or 3,800 acre-feet. And we showed that you could double the amount of trails and sports fields, and increase riparian and upland habitats. We don’t really know where that project will go, but when I learned from the racist secret recordings of former (and a lingering current) LA City council members that one of them wanted to plop an NFL stadium there, I had about the same boinging brain reaction as I did to the $1 billion price tag I’m writing about today.
Speaking of how public money goes to projects that aren’t explicitly about restoration, so now the Sepulveda Basin is hot to trot, and a new consultant team is working on yet a new vision plan for it. Community members have had to wage a campaign to force a commitment to nature based strategies at the basin, and to ensuring that any plans that come forward do not prevent the river from being restored. (Not sure about the status of that).
I always seem to say, it doesn’t have to be this way.
So now you know, pinko lefty eco-chicas can also be concerned about fiscal responsibility and accountability. Especially when not only money, but creeks (and the childhoods played in them) are being wasted.
LA River Historical Flows, circa 1879
February 3, 2022 § 5 Comments
Just a quick note to add some perspective to a recent LA Times article about treated wastewater discharged into the LA River and the possibility that this could be reduced. The amount of water in the river in its “beforetimes” has been the subject of quite some argument that sometimes gets trotted out to justify modern decisions. So here’s documentation from the State Engineer William Hammond Hall circa 1877 (Emphasis mine):
The drainage of the Los Angeles river after leaving the Sierra Madre Mountains is received into the large basin of the San Fernando Valley, whose soil is gravelly and porous, but probably underlaid with an impervious substration(sic) of clay or rock , and acting as a great sponge, it holds the water it receives and gives it off slowly. This valley is shut in on the south of the coast range at the foot of which the river runs, finding an outlet through the hills by a narrow gap just above the city of Los Angeles. The streams emptying into the basin are the Paloma, the Pacoima, the Tujunga, and the Verdugo, of which the largest is the Tujunga. Like all the mountain torrents which descend from the Sierra Madre, they have a very rapid fall, and on reaching the valley spread out into broad “washes”, whose beds are composed of boulders gravel and coarse sand. In flow they flow entirely across the valley to the Los Angeles river, but in summer the water barely emerges from the mountains, and sinks from sight in the porous channels. The Arroyo Seco, another large tributary having the same characteristics as the other mountain torrents, enters the river at the city of Los Angeles.
In May last the discharge of the river at the mouth of Tujunga Wash ten miles above the city, where the upper dam of the Los Angeles irrigation system is located, was 24 ½ cubic feet per second. This amount was augmented by about 54 cubic feet per second from springs rising in the bed of the river at various points between this dam and the city. The total available supply therefore was about 78 ½ cubic feet per second. An amount which is but little diminished during the summer months.
Below the city the river is broad, shallow and sandy, and only upon rare occasions does the water ever find its way entirely to the sea, but is absorbed by the thirsty sand.-State Engineer William Hammond Hall Papers, Misc. Working Papers, General Irrigation Info, Reports- LA County (Schuyler)
Which are at the State Archives under AC 91-06-10
(Schuyler FWIW is the actual person taking the measurements and writing the notes…The dam mentioned is near present day North Hollywood. That total flow description is for flow approximately near Figueroa Street in Northeast LA – He doesn’t mention any inflow from the Arroyo Seco, so it’s hard to say if he was measuring above or below that)
It’s a shame the terms of contemporary debate are so narrow that serious people only argue about how much life support (treated sewage aka used imported water) to give the river – if any. In some parallel universe there is perhaps a dialogue being had about recharging groundwater, reconnecting floodplains, and removing or reducing the effect of dams on river flows… but for us, in this universe, we don’t even have in the English language much of a functioning subjunctive tense with which to describe the possibilities that the river (and we) deserve, without being laughed out of the room.
But the subjunctive still gives us this: Long live the river!
A buried creek’s dilemma: to be daylighted or drained?
December 28, 2021 § 3 Comments
[Opening digression: I was just texted an image predicting rainfall for LA for the next few days – it looks like you could get hammered (rainfall-wise – what you do with alcohol I have no predictions for), so this post may seem ironic, misplaced, bad timing? You’ve got a trough heading your way and if it doesn’t keep moving…well let’s just hope that it does. The focus of today’s post is dry-weather flows…]
To those of us who recognize stormdrains (or, some of them) as body-snatched creeks, and who long for a water management approach that would incorporate daylighting or naturalization of concreted waterways and nature-based treatment that doubles as streetside landscaping, floodable parks, greenways, etc., well, prepare to be disappointed. Or enraged? Whichever, it’s a familiar feeling. At least we’re not alone on this.
The City of LA recently issued an IS/MND (Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration) and awarded a contract to start work on diverting low flows from certain stormdrains. The low flows – aka urban slobber in some circles – would be pumped from the storm drains into the sewer system, so that they can be treated for pollutants. From there, like the rest of the region’s wastewater, it either gets discharged into
flood control channels rivers, is infiltrated to groundwater, or reused (such as purple pipe irrigation). So you can see how it closes some loops and ticks some sustainability boxes.
City of L.A. Nearing Purchase of Taylor Yard “Crown Jewel” Parcel
August 25, 2014 § 2 Comments
Sorry to keep doing this – but I am writing full time over at Streetsblog L.A., and not much time left over for my extracurricular blogging at LACF. Check out this very Creek Freak article I posted today – about the city of Los Angeles getting close to purchasing Taylor Yard Parcel G2. This is , in my opinion, the single most important restoration site along the 51+miles of the L.A. River. I can remember Lewis MacAdams pushing for this site way back in the 1990s; Melanie Winter championing it for many many years. It looks like there’s a willing seller, and the parcel could be in public ownership, maybe by late 2014. Then, over time, it will be part of a 100+ acre park. Woot Wooooooot!!
The city is seeking public comment – see the SBLA article for details.
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 »
Garcetti Announces US Army Corps Support for $1B LA River Plan
May 29, 2014 § 1 Comment
Earlier today, Mayor Garcetti announced U.S. Army Corps of Engineers support for Option 20 – the most ambitious of various USACE projects for L.A. River habitat restoration. For more of the story, including some impromptu Lewis MacAdams poetry, see my article today at Streetsblog Los Angeles.
“Grondwater word hier gebruik”
January 18, 2014 § 3 Comments
Recently, I was lucky enough to visit the Cape region of South Africa, a mecca for plant nerds, and during my last couple hours in Capetown, I had the pleasure of visiting the studio of artist/designer, Porky Hefer, maker of suspended tree pods inspired by the nests of local weaver birds.
His studio is in part of a former farm compound in Oranjezicht, a neighborhood on the side of Table Mountain, within walking distance of downtown Capetown. Table Mountain is to Capetown what the Empire State Building is to New York City. It towers above the city with its top often bathed in a cloud. The changing appearance of mountain, light and rolling clouds provides a show I found endlessly inspiring. The mountain itself is even more awe-inspiring in that it is a world renowned center of biodiversity right in the middle of a very cosmopolitan city.
I was charmed by a modest water feature next to the discrete entrance gate to Porky Hefer’s studio. The fountain was labeled with a sign that said ‘Grondwater word hier gebruik.’ Though not running, the fountain was built to feed into a brick-lined rill, and as I walked through the studio compound, I noticed the rill appearing mysteriously in other areas of the compound.
When Porky returned from his appointment, he filled me in on the whole narrative of this water. From the first water fountain, water flows into the rill that I first saw. Then it rounds a corner, runs under a door, through a corridor, and into a brick-lined watering hole from which horses once drank. After offering the animals a drink, it runs down a couple stairs, and fills a small courtyard pool, whose reflective surface picks up the movement of the wind. After this thoughtful pause, it flows through another corridor and under a wall to connected properties, where I supposed there were gardens or orchards to be watered.
I loved the sequential integration of direct streamflow into the daily activity of a farm-turned-studio.
It ends up that springs that flowed from Table Mountain inspired Khoi people to call this area ‘Camissa,’ the ‘place of sweet waters’ (where sweet means drinkable). These springs are the reason Capetown developed here. Oranjezicht springs were among the first sources of water for Capetown. Though most of the springs were eventually routed underground, Table Mountain still supplies 5% of the city’s water. The water of Table Mountain is the source of drinking water at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, where it is treated with nothing more than ozone.
Reclaim Camissa is an initiative founded by Caron Von Zeil to bring to light and celebrate the Camissa water system. Its poetically named pilot project, Field of Springs, embodies the potential of urban waters to seamlessly bridge utilitarian, ecological, and cultural life. This project was included in Capetown’s successful bid to become World Design Capital for 2014. With Capetown in the design community’s eye, it will be wonderful if this initiative can be brought closer to implementation and inspire visionaries in other cities.
This trip was funded by the Dangermond Travelling Fellowship through the Cal Poly Pomona Department of Landscape Architecture.
L.A. Aqueduct Centennial: Events of the Day
November 5, 2013 § 3 Comments
As many local creek freaks know, today marks 100 years since William Mulholland presided over the dedication ceremony for the opening of the Los Angeles Aqueduct at the Sylmar Cascades where he famously proclaimed “There it is Mr. Mayor. Take it.” The City of Los Angeles and local organizations have planned a number of events to mark the occasion. A handful of them are listed below. Also below is a list of informative and/or beautiful sites dedicated to the history and significance of our relationship with the Owens Valley. As always, feel free to add anything in the comments. Thanks and enjoy!
There It Is – Take It! (a fantastic audio tour of the Owens Valley)
The Owens Valley Timeline (BOOM)
L.A. Aqueduct Centennial Page (LADWP)
The L.A. Aqueduct at 100 (KPCC)
A Self-Guided Tour of the L.A. Aqueduct (KCET)
The Construction of the L.A. Aqueduct (some great old photos)
The Lake Project (David Maisel)
Today, 12:00pm: Commemorative Reenactment at the L.A. Aqueduct Cascades
The reenactment event at the Cascades is open to the media and invited guests only due to space limitations. A public celebration will be held at LADWP headquarters downtown, where a live simulcast of the Cascades event will be shown on monitors located around the perimeter of the building. Attendees can view the lobby exhibit dedicated to Water and Power history, centered on the L.A. Aqueduct, and enjoy refreshments and celebratory Centennial cake. The reenactment can also be seen live on Channel 35 or online at LAaqueduct100.com.
Today, 5:30pm: Opening of Just Add Water
The Natural History Museum presents large-scale watercolor works by Los Angeles artist Rob Reynolds, inspired by the L.A. Aqueduct that brought water to a thirsty region.
Today & Tomorrow, 9:30am – 5:00pm: Free Days at the Natural History Museum
Free admission on both days. Every visitor will receive a bottle of water commemorating the opening of the L.A. Aqueduct and have the chance to be a part of the next 100 years by signing a register destined for a new time museum time capsule.
Tomorrow through December 6th, Aqueduct Futures Project
Created in collaboration with 130 Cal Poly Pomona students who designed landscape strategies to enhance the resilience and adaptability of Los Angeles’ aging water infrastructure. Aqueduct Futures Project establishes a road map to resolve the conflict between the City and the Owens Valley. On display at the Bridge Gallery located at Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N. Spring Street, Downtown L.A. Closing reception to be held on December 3rd from 9:00am to 11:00am.
Tomorrow, 5:30pm: Time Capsule Creation at the Natural History Museum
To be held on the steps of the NHM 1913 Building. Celebrate the 100th anniversary of the L.A. Aqueduct and NHM, with remarks by civic leaders, a ceremonial lighting of the Expositon Park Fountain, and a display of materials that will be placed in a time capsule that will be opened in 2113.
Upcoming Events: Fall 2013
September 16, 2013 § 2 Comments
There are a number of upcoming river-related events, a few of which are listed below:
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 18: Groundbreaking of the L.A. Riverfront Park Project, Phase II (Sepulveda Blvd. to Kester Ave.)
Councilmember Tom LaBonge, the L.A. Bureau of Engineering and the L.A. Dept. of Recreation & Parks kick off construction of a new greenway on the south side of the L.A. River. The ceremony will be held at 9:00am this Wednesday morning (9/18) on the site of the future community park at the intersection of Morrison Street and Noble Avenue. Questions may be directed to Tommy Newman at email@example.com or (213) 485-3337
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 21: Made in L.A. Ride
Enjoy a ride from 10:30am to 2:30pm, sponsored by Metro, along the L.A. River and learn about places that manufacture and create goodies in L.A.! C.I.C.L.E., with the LA River Regatta Club, will lead a community bicycle ride, “Made in LA” along the LA River. This expedition, open to all cyclists, will pedal through and around Cypress Park & Elysian Valley and expose riders to places that make products right in Los Angeles. Event details HERE.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 22: A Car-Free Sunday on the L.A. River
The residents of Studio City and Sherman Oaks have banded together to take back the streets for World Car Free Day on September 22nd! Join in for a day of fun (car-free activities) along the LA River. More info HERE.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28: Arroyo Seco Via
Hosted by the Arroyo Seco Foundation, Arroyo Seco Via will span the Arroyo Seco from Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena to Los Angeles State Historic Park (The Cornfield) near downtown Los Angeles. It will consist of a bike ride between these two parks, where there will be fun and educational presentations and activities. Among the events planned for the day will be a 20th Anniversary Celebration of Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena, a rally to support Alternative 20 (the most expansive plan for River restoration in the Army Corps’ recent study) and the L.A. River Rally to be held at 12:00pm at Los Angeles State Historic Park. For more information, visit the Arroyo Seco Via web page.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28: Frogtown/Elysian Valley Art Walk
The 8th annual installment of this River-adjacent event will showcase the artists, artisans, and architects of Elysian Valley, otherwise known as Frogtown. From 4:00pm to 10:00pm. More info HERE.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 10: State of the L.A. River Conference
In addition to a discussion of the current and future condition of the Los Angeles River, the symposium will provide an opportunity for student researchers to present the results of their research at an interactive poster session. Artistic and historical representations of the river will also be exhibited. 8:00am to 5:00pm at Deaton Auditorium, 100 W 1st St. Los Angeles, California 90012. More info HERE.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 17: Informative Public Meeting on the L.A. River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study
Join the Army Corps of Engineers for a public meeting to learn more about the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study. This is an opportunity for you to make comments on the public record. The event will be held from 5:30pm to 7:30pm in the atrium of the Los Angeles River Center and Gardens, 570 West Avenue 26, Los Angeles, CA 90065. For questions, please call USACE Public Affairs, 213-452-3925.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20: Let’s Talk River
The L.A. River Revitalization Corporation’s annual garden party will be held from 4:00pm to 7:00pm at the L.A. River Center, 570 W Ave 26, Los Angeles, CA 90065. For more information, visit the event site HERE or contact Miranda Rodriguez at 323-221-7800.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20: Found L.A. Festival of Neighborhoods
LA Commons will host the third annual Found L.A.: Festival of Neighborhoods. This year’s theme, “The River of Your Imagination” invites Angelinos to explore the range of ways they interact with the L.A. River. Participants will be able to visit a traditional Japanese garden, witness the L.A. River as it was 100 years ago, hear stories of the Great Wall of Los Angeles, explore the amazing natural life of the Ballona Wetlands and discover Southern California’s largest equestrian center. For more information, contact Jamie Poster at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the LA Commons website.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 2: Run the L.A. River
This 10K race is the inaugural edition of an annual run/walk event planned through 2020, where each year the course will be lengthened (while still hosting a 10K) to a 20-mile run that will coincide with the completion of the Greenway 2020 vision created by the L.A. River Revitalization Corporation. For more information and to register, see the event website HERE.
Feel free to add any other upcoming local watershed events in the comment section!
Army Corps Releases L.A. River Ecosystem Restoration Report
September 13, 2013 § 6 Comments
This landmark report can be downloaded HERE
From the USACE website:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in conjunction with the City of Los Angeles, announces the availability of a Draft Integrated Feasibility Report, which includes a Draft Feasibility Study and Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report for the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Study, Los Angeles County, Calif., for review and comment. The Draft IFR is available for a 45-day review period from Sept. 20 through Nov. 5, 2013.
See below for information on the upcoming public meeting on October 17: