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!
Dry weather diversions – memories up a sh*t’s creek
December 29, 2021 § 3 Comments
Yesterday’s post hurt my brain to write, and it hurts my brain a little to re-read. OK, it hurts my brain a lot. So I suspect it’s not fun for anyone else either. I wish it could be more straightforward.
And then I woke up this morning realizing I wasn’t done with the subject yet. Ugh.
So if this issue of buried streams in the crossfire of clean water regulations and local governments liable for compliance is pertinent to you, bear with me. If you live in a park poor area with buried streams (Angelenos, that’s basically you), it’s pertinent.« Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Fun Silly New L.A. River Kayaking Video
December 10, 2019 § Leave a comment
Enjoy this new video from a couple of intrepid folks who recently attempted to kayak the L.A. River… and didn’t get very far… but nonetheless made a fun video showing their experience. They put in near Griffith Park’s Bette Davis Picnic Area – at the edge of the city of Glendale’s Glendale Narrows River Walk and only got to the adjacent Griffith Park Ferraro soccer fields.
There are plenty of places to put in and kayak the L.A. River safely and enjoyably – see my 2008 account of my first kayak trip there: day1, day2 and day3. The Burbank and Glendale stretches do involve plenty of portaging (walking.) There are also various organized kayaking tours these days. One warning: the L.A. River can get very dangerous very quickly during rainy weather, just watch No Way Out. The best time to kayak is when it’s not raining.
The watershed in your yard: the WaterLA 2018 Annual Report
February 23, 2018 § 2 Comments
Books! OK… well – Reports! Part 3, the final of my recommended reads – the practical, the lyrical and
The Celebratory (also, yes, the Nerdy): Water LA 2018 Report
WaterLA , a project spearheaded by the River Project, champions making watershed management local. Hyper local. Your front yard local. The team there combines community outreach with effective, tested permaculture and landscape design techniques to harvest and retain water in yards and street planting strips. Rain gardens, rain barrels, grey water systems and permeable paving are among the solutions used at multiple sites across LA’s Valley. WaterLA organizers locate community members ready to pitch in and engage in work parties, so that everyone’s working together – building community while building resilience.
This year’s WaterLA Annual Report, then, is a celebration of the gains to individuals, families and our water supply delivered through participation in the project. You see, all those small projects add up to groundwater enhancement, and reductions in peak runoff when it rains – dampening the effect of most floods. The Annual Report quantifies water savings and relates project costs to other, more costly, regional approaches currently in use. Native plant and permaculture folks may be excited to see the conversions of lawns to habitat and foodscapes, community-minded folks may find some inspiration in its projects, and fiscally-minded folks may be encouraged to see creative, affordable solutions to expensive regional problems. A worthy project that would benefit all if it could be applied on a larger scale.
Restoring Neighborhood Streams: a book that LA could use
February 19, 2018 § 9 Comments
Creekfreaks! If you, like me, have resolved to pull away a bit from the netflix-amazonprime-hulu bingefests that serve as a daily nonpharma escapist (are we really living these political times?) opiate, and if maybe you, like me, are rediscovering those magical things called books – then I have a few reads for you! They range from practical, to lyrical, to celebratory. Personally, I find them all inspirational. In today’s post, I give you –
The Practical: Restoring Neighborhood Streams; Planning, Design, and Construction
Restoring Neighborhood Streams; Planning, Design, and Construction (2016, Island Press), builds on author A.L. Riley’s decades of engagement and effort in the restoring and daylighting of streams in urban and suburban areas. This Creekfreak was especially influenced by Riley and her work. Her previous book, Restoring Streams in Cities, is well dog-eared in my library, and has been an important go-to reference for how to think about stream function and restoration design. This new book provides case studies that illuminate fundamental questions that should be the basis for planning and design of urban stream restoration:
- Is it physically feasible to restore?
- Is it financially feasible?
- Does the public support (I’d add: political will) exist to support land use changes to support a live river or stream?
Of chenopods and corn: agriculture along the Los Angeles River, both then and now
July 27, 2016 § 5 Comments
In the very early days of agriculture in the Los Angeles basin, the seasonal flooding of the Los Angeles River was intimately connected with the possibility of agriculture. Farmers welcomed flood-deposited silt. It made stuff grow. The agriculture of then grew out of the river of then.
The agriculture of now also deserves to be discussed in the context of the LA River, though it may require some serious visionary thinking to draw out the possibilities of this connection. Some have suggested the idea of community gardens along the river. Maybe in the near future. But let’s not forget that in the river as it currently stands, there are already all sorts of useful or edible plants that grow profusely without labor, chemicals, or other inputs. What can we learn from those plants?
Last of all, how can we put together the past and present to envision ways in which sustainable local food production might intersect with the Los Angeles River of the future?
At L.A. River Expeditions‘ Sepulveda Basin tour this past Sunday, kayak guide Gary Golding talked about useful wild plants currently found along the LA river channel, such as cattails, castor bean, wild mustards… Some of these plants are exotics and some are natives. Some are edible, and others are used medicinally. But what they all have in common is that they grow profusely and unapologetically, without the help of chemicals, irrigation, or the human hand, in any place suitable to their needs. This includes right in the Los Angeles River channel, where they thrive beneath a lush canopy of native willows. So why not learn what they are and learn how to use them?
Gary talked a long time about cattails. Parts of the plant can be processed into flour. Other parts can be eaten like celery. The pollen can be used in several different ways, and is considered to have healthful properties. This is just a brief capsule of one of the many plants he talked about.
My own talk started with the agriculture of then. Believe it or not, in the early days of (European) settlement in the basin, the soil in many valley areas of Los Angeles used to retain enough moisture to allow for farming without irrigation— this is called dry farming. Ludwig Louis Salvator wrote in 1876 of the “tablelands” of Los Angeles, that properly prepared soil could produce “nine good annual harvests out of ten, without irrigation, of castor oil beans, Indian corn, barley, alfalfa, potatoes, and various kinds of vegetables.”
At that time, the LA Basin was only sparsely developed. In that big open basin, plant roots and plant litter facilitated the soaking of water into the ground. Imagine about 50% of all rainfall ending up stored in the ground (California Water & Land Use Partnership), moving slowly downward through soil with the help of gravity, where it eventually joins the water table. In those days, rain moving slowly underground would have eventually re-emerged into one of the many streams, marshes, ponds, or wetlands in the LA River basin.
Though flooding did occur during the rainy season, it was different from the sudden devastating flooding of the early-mid 1900s– the flood stories we often hear about tend to be mostly from this specific period in history. This pop mythology about the river focusses on the kind of flooding that worsened in severity after houses and roads had already replaced the vegetation that had helped the ground behave like a sponge; the kind of devastating flooding that eventually prompted the channelization of the river into a thick bed of concrete… That kind of destructive flooding was still unknown. In the earliest days, rather, flooding was to be respected, but it also included the happy possibility that the river would deposit rich silt over the land, sometimes in layers several feet deep. Farmers loved this silt. The oral histories collected by Reagan in 1914 include many in which farmers praise the flood-deposited silt.
It was not necessary to fertilize the land, as they are now doing. They raised 100 bushels of corn to the acre, but not now. In those days a crop of corn and California pumpkins were raised on the same land. Those pumpkins would grow so thick that it was difficult to walkaround and step between them, while it was an easy matter to go all over the place and never step on the ground, stepping on the pumpkins. The largest I ever saw weighed 214 pounds, and on our place we raised one that weighed 206 pounds. (Proctor, from Reagan)
These stories might sound fantastical, but in his book on the Los Angeles River, Blake Gumprecht credits river-deposited soils as the reason Los Angeles County was “the most productive agricultural county in the United States until the 1950s.”
Contrast that to our current situation (call it the well-drained city), where 61% of the non-mountainous portions of the city of Los Angeles is covered by impervious surfaces, the hard surfaces like paving and roofs that prevent water from soaking into the ground (McPherson et al, 2008). Water moves very quickly over those hard surfaces, and is funneled into an elaborate network of stormdrains that transports captured rainfall as efficiently as possible into the ocean, rather than allowing it to soak into the ground where it might be replenishing aquifers, streams, and rivers.
On undeveloped land (this depends on slope, soil, vegetation cover, and other factors), one might expect 10% of rainfall to become surface runoff. In urbanized areas, about 55% of rain falling on the ground can become runoff that ends up in storm drains (California Water & Land Use Partnership). It is ironic that the finely networked stormdrain system that culminates in the Los Angeles River flood control channel really functions to dispose of the water that otherwise would be creating our streams. (This is why any river restoration that focusses only on the main channel without touching the network of tributaries higher up in the watershed might look good, but is essentially an end-of-pipe solution– it will not have a large impact on the river’s hydrology– it will certainly not help the river capture more water.) With precipitation disposed of so efficiently, the landscape of the Los Angeles basin is now so well-drained that the idea of growing vegetable crops without artificial irrigation, even in the ‘table lands,’ might seem fantastical.
What about the agriculture of now? As I spoke, some kayakers pointed out a field of corn planted right in Sepulveda Basin, near our trip’s starting point.
I had to investigate. Rows of corn were planted neatly, but the stalks were wan and thin. The plants on the edge of the field were dried. Maybe irrigation had just recently ceased. I was surprised to see that the plant that gave the field a dark green color from a distance was actually a species that appeared to have volunteered. This plant, growing far more prolifically than the intended crop, appeared to be some sort of chenopod. « Read the rest of this entry »
Early Floods in Los Angeles: Interview 147, J. E. Proctor, Long Beach: It was not necessary to fertilize the land…
July 16, 2016 § 1 Comment
One of the best creek freak documents around is a series of interviews made by Los Angeles County Flood Control Engineer James Reagan, around 1914. The interviews give a vivid picture of the Los Angeles basin of more than 100 years ago. We will be posting other interviews from this document in the following months.
He has been in this section of the country for more than forty years, and has witnessed some big floods. They have never done the damage that the flood last winter did, for the reason that everything is different. In the early days, and up to within the last four years, the country was covered more or less with willows, brush fences, and in some places, lakes, marshes and other small growth. In those days the water would spread out all over the country, and the velocity was very much slower, it did no damage, and in many ways did good.
It was not necessary to fertilize the land, as they are now doing. They raised 100 bushels of corn to the acre, but not now. In those days a crop of corn and California pumpkins were raised on the same land. Those pumpkins would grow so thick that it was difficult to walkaround and step between them, while it was an easy matter to go all over the place and never step on the ground, stepping on the pumpkins. The largest I ever saw weighed 214 pounds, and on our place we raised one that weighed 206 pounds.
So in this way the floods did a great deal of good. Each flood left a deposit of silt on the land that made the rich yields of those days. I am afraid the people will miss those floods, although in the last flood the land was washed very badly. That washing comes from the land being cleared off and having a freer run than before. There were no railroad embankments in those days either to hold the water either, where it is now held up, and the volume contracted into a smaller space at the openings under the railroad. And too, a flood would break out and a strong current would cut across the country carrying things before it, and in the wake perhaps putting a channel that ruined the land. Therefore part of the flood carried the big amount of silt, but the deposits were left by the last part of the flood.
On our place we have no fear of the flood that first comes, that does no damage, but it is the tail end of the flood that causes the damage. A place is started below us, and should a flood come again as last winter it will probably cut back and ruin our place. As it is we could do nothing with it this year; we could not rent it for anything.
Many peculiar things were noted in the flood of last winter. We had a chicken yard about 50 feet square, made of woven wire chicken fencing. On the inside of this fence, when the flood had gone down we found a deposit of sand and silt inside the yard about three feet deep. And another at a lower corner of the fence, a single strange of barb wire about 100 feet long, got loose except at one end, where it was held. Along this single strand of barb wire as it lay down stream had gathered a sand bar just back of the wire, or just below it, about 18 inches high.
These two things show what small obstructions can do. It gives us an idea of how little it takes to gather the silt, to form an obstruction that will soon turn the stream in some other direction.
So for a protection to the land I believe that a mat of willow roots and boughs would be more effective than anything else outside of a solid concrete wall and flood conduit for the water to travel in.
A channel 500 or 600 feet wide would probably carry the flood of last winter, but some of the others I could not say. The only objection to a wide channel is that when the tail end of the flood is running off it is liable to start zigzagging across the channel and then it is liable to cut the embankment. As long as the channel is clear and straight and enough water to partially fill the channel, everything would go all right, but the small stream that will not fill the channel will do a great deal of damage.
It is easy to get the willows to grow, they will grow anyway. The best way is to get branches as long as possible, lay them with the buts upstream, and then partially cover the with sand. They should be placed at the bottom of the embankment in the river bed, and then they will get plenty of moisture.
Mere sand banks will not do. They will melt down like sugar. But something should be done, but not any great expensive works until they work out the most effective methods of handling the water. I have worked in water all my life, and have seen some funny capers by it….
The second half of the interview, perhaps to be transcribed at a later date, describes the different qualities of well water at different strata.
Early Floods in Los Angeles: Interview 140, William Mulholland: It is no difficulty to do things when the work is carried on in harmony with Nature
July 15, 2016 § 9 Comments
One of the best creek freak documents around is a series of interviews made by Los Angeles County Flood Control Engineer James Reagan, around 1914. The interviews give a vivid picture of the Los Angeles basin of more than 100 years ago. We will be posting other interviews from this document in the following months.
The following is a transcription of Mulholland’s interview by F. Z. Lee, on October 2, 1914.
As Mr. Mulholland said, he has never had anything to do with the river other than in connection with the water works, where their supply came from for many years.
There seems nothing strange or mysterious about handling the floods of the river if the lesson from nature was followed. It is no difficulty to do things when the work is carried on in harmony with Nature, but when man begins to obstruct the laws of Nature and to work against them, then there is great difficulty.
We had no trouble with the Los Angeles River until 1877-78. Up to that time the channel of the river was clear of willows and other growth that would cause the water to change about from one side of the river to the other. When the floods came they spread over the gravel beds of the river and ran along smoothly without obstruction. There were some willows along the banks of the streams but none out in the channel. The channels remained the same all the time.