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.
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.)
Fracking in L.A.? (Workshops to be held on 6/12 and 6/13)
June 11, 2012 § 2 Comments
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.
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 »
LA Creeks and Golf Courses – flowing by the fairways
March 26, 2012 § 6 Comments
It seems as though there’s almost always a creek on golf courses in Los Angeles – be it natural, concrete or underground. And having proposed daylighting and restoration projects at a number of our local golf courses, I was happy to see this article, A Stream Runs Through It, published in the Golf Course Industry online magazine, supporting the idea. I have found that golf courses and streams can coexist, but too often golf courses alter the stream, pushing it over the edge of the property, constraining it in ways that destabilize it, removing habitat, etc. The management problems are often quite predictable. The opportunity exists to design a golf course with an understanding of stream habitat and function, leading to a richer golf experience, fewer maintenance issues, and habitat for that remaining 5-10% of LA’s waterways. Streams can separate greens, but when they traverse greens, they can become part of the play in interesting ways.
A couple of golf course/restoration locations I’ve referred to in Creek Freak posts include Devil’s Dip (I promise a post on just the golf course and restoration potential there in the near future but here’s a slide from Creek Freak’s recommendations to Mark Ridley-Thomas about it.) and South Pasadena Golf Course.
A famous creek/golf course is the Arroyo Santa Monica through the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. « Read the rest of this entry »
Urgent action needed: identify City of LA creeks for protection under ordinance
March 7, 2012 § 5 Comments
Creek Freaks, I am posting this message on behalf of Shelley Luce, Executive Director, and Mark Abramson, their Senior Watershed Advisor. They need your help by Friday March 16. I have my own comment to add following their request:
Send us your Streams and Creeks!
Calling all Creek Freaks! The Santa Monica By Restoration Commission needs your help identifying and locating streams and creeks in the City of Los Angeles. The City is creating a stream protection ordinance designed to protect the few remaining healthy creeks within the City limits. They have requested a list of streams and creeks that should be protected. We are asking all our friends and creek enthusiasts to send us pictures and locations of creeks within the City so that we can ensure their protection. If you have a favorite creek spot that you feel warrants protection please send the location (preferably latitude and longitude, a picture, and any information that you might have about the stream or creek. The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission will then visit these sites and compile a list of streams and creeks that should be protected for the inclusion in the City of Los Angeles’ Stream Protection Ordinance. Please send any information to firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject line Protect this Stream. Your efforts will help protect these few remaining special places for generations to come. « Read the rest of this entry »
Ballona’s historical ecology – and new awesome map site
January 23, 2012 § 7 Comments
As many of you probably already heard, last week the Coastal Conservancy approved up to $6.5 million to complete studies and permitting for the Ballona Wetlands. If that price tag for planning is giving you sticker shock, I have two words: Army Corps. Actually more than two words – you see, one alternative proposes removing and relocating the levees that currently contain Ballona Creek’s flows from spreading over the wetlands. (You know, the way in undisturbed situations fresh water from a stream or river normally spreads over wetlands, making the land, you know, wet.) And removing and relocating levees is sensitive business, and an involved regulatory process that has to be paid for and that can rapidly add up to a big chunk of the $6.5m.
That’s just the regulatory/cost barrier. Some people are concerned about the potential flood risk to humans, while others are concerned about the flood risk to…the wetlands. This has been an ongoing debate, and while it’s not the point of today’s post, I think we’ve got new information that can help us all consider the alternatives – as well as create new projects. Back when I was watershed coordinator, I felt the conversation about the watersheds could be elevated if we had a better handle on the historical ecology of the watershed. Agreed-upon, documented sense of what natural processes shaped the habitats of the watershed, and what had actually been here. I drafted a proposal for this study, as well as an assessment of the watershed’s springs/water budget, both of which got funded and managed by others later.
And the historical ecology report is done, and is beautiful! Props to the team comprised of CSUN, SCCWRP, SFEI and UCLA researchers! « Read the rest of this entry »
Stormdrains from Tar Pits to Ballona
December 7, 2011 § 5 Comments
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 »
Going bonkers over the brea in Ballona
December 4, 2011 § 18 Comments
Real Creek of the Week #2
October 19, 2011 § 3 Comments
Following Fake Creek of the Week #2, correctly identified by commenter Oona Martin as the fake creek at Coldwater Canyon Park, is our Real Creek, or in this case, real creeks. Coldwater Canyon’s stream is gone, culverted away, but the creek in Franklin Canyon remains. Franklin Canyon was damned, or dammed, last century to create drinking water reservoirs.
The upper dam is a familiar site to hikers at Franklin Canyon Park, or rather, its artificial lake is. Fun fact: DWP told me in my watershed coordinator days that they don’t fill that lake. What you see there is perennial groundwater or spring flow. Downstream of the dam, the creek runs through a sycamore woodland, and in a few locations springs can be observed.
The lower dam area remains off limits. Drained of imported water, a creek there has been restoring itself.
Downstream of the dam, and above our Fake Creek #2 is an old orange grove. It appears to be a remnant of the agricultural legacy of Hollywood and environs.
Beverly Drive joins Franklin Canyon near this grove, leading to the third canyon/creek comprising this Rodeo de las Aguas – Higgins Canyon. Most of the creek, as with Coldwater Canyon’s flows, are confined to a culvert. At the far end of Beverly Drive, right where the public street ends and a private street begins, however, you can observe a small spring-fed creek flowing through private yards to its culvert coffin. But if you choose to go observe, please be mindful of the residents who live there.
Ballona Creek Rain Gardens in Action
October 5, 2011 § 1 Comment
Rain always means going out to watch the water rise, and this morning a friend and I hustled out to Ballona Creek to the check out the recently completed rain gardens in action. I posted about them here and here. When I got home a few hours later, the County’s rain gage indicated that Ballona Creek near there had received 0.8″ – so this was a healthy first test for the rain gardens. Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission staff were out taking samples and observing its performance as well – and now doubt we will all be eagerly watching how the gardens adjust and adapt to the season’s flows.