Please tell me these pipe sections are not meant for an underground stream…..

October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment


When I passed this truck on the 210 freeway this afternoon, I wondered what watershed these huge pipe sections were destined for. I thought about all the rain gardens, bioswales, wetlands, stream restorations, urban parks, and urban biodiversity that could be created if we had spent the $$$ used for the digging of trenches and laying of such massive pipes on something that actually benefited the everyday quality of life of urban residents, that replenished local groundwater supplies so we can reduce our dependence on imported water, while nurturing native riparian and wetland biota, while improving the quality of water in our bays, while providing non-electronic entertainment for all the kids that live in parts of the city that otherwise have no easy access to parks, while still providing flood control benefits.

I wondered why we still invest in stormwater infrastructure that perpetuates a cycle of dependence on more infrastructure. Just like it has been shown that building more and wider freeways and roads results in stronger dependence on cars; adding more impermeable surfaces in a watershed (buildings, asphalt parking lots, roads) results in the need for increasingly extremist drainage infrastructure, like super gargantuan pipes…

Tell me these pipes are meant for something other than to convey one of our urban underground streams toward the ocean in a way that prevents their use by native biota, and which prevents us nature-starved city people from experiencing the physiological and public health and microclimate benefits that urban greenery provides. Tell me that these pipes are being transported because urban streams all over are being daylighted, and that using bigger and bigger pipes to convey a precious resource like water toward the ocean is recognized as a quaint part of our historical past. Tell me underground pipes are being replaced by wetlands, infiltration zones, and streams, and that the reuse of  pipe sections that used to convey urban streams is now choice material for architecture for the homeless, where the thick concrete walls of pipes are perfect as thermal mass that creates passive climate control… or that these pipes are being reused as wildlife crossings under freeways….   or that sci-arc students are making them into the new modular architecture? pod hotels?  something…..

City of L.A. Nearing Purchase of Taylor Yard “Crown Jewel” Parcel

August 25, 2014 § 2 Comments

Image of 100+acre park at Taylor Yard, including concrete removal, widening the existing soft-bottom river. Image from city of L.A. L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan.

Image of 100+acre park at Taylor Yard, including concrete removal, widening the existing soft-bottom river. Image from city of L.A. L.A. River Revitalization Master Plan.

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.

Riverside Figueroa Bridge Demolition Underway

August 6, 2014 § 2 Comments

Riverside Drive Bridge 1926-2011 - photo copyright Osceola Refetoff

Riverside Drive Bridge as it looked in 2011 – photo copyright Osceola Refetoff

The city of Los Angeles is proceeding with demolition of  the historic Riverside-Figueroa Bridge over the L.A. River. I’ve been covering this story over at Streetsblog Los Angeles, see today’s article featuring sad photographs showing the bridge being torn up. It makes me sad that this neighborhood-scale bridge is being torn down in favor of a freeway-scale bridge. In this earlier post, I called the project “nothing but zombie engineers fulfilling a now obsolete paean to the automobile.” I don’t think I can outdo that characterization today.

Partially demolished bridge more-or-less as it appears today. Photo by Daveed Kapoor

Partially demolished bridge more-or-less as it appears today. Photo by Daveed Kapoor

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

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti shakes hands with US Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Kim Colloton at today's press conference in Elysian Valley.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti shakes hands with US Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Kim Colloton at today’s press conference in Elysian Valley.

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.

Pacoima Wash Greenway Moving Forward

March 19, 2014 § 1 Comment

The City of San Fernando's 8th Street Park along the Pacoima Wash. It's looking good, ready to open soon, and will be a future entry point for the planned Pacoima Wash greenway.

The City of San Fernando’s 8th Street Park along the Pacoima Wash. It’s looking good, ready to open soon, and will be a future entry point for the planned Pacoima Wash greenway.

I am blogging full-time over at Streetsblog L.A., so not posting much here at L.A. Creek Freak (excuses, excuses), but I thought Creek Freaks might like this article I wrote. The city of San Fernando is moving ahead on its 1.6-mile greenway along the Pacoima Wash.

Earlier Creek Freak articles about this include this intro to Pacoima Beautiful’s efforts, and this exploration of San Fernando’s 8th Street Park, which is due to open in the next couple months.

“Make Friends with Floods”

March 15, 2014 § 6 Comments

Kongjian Yu, ESRI GeoDesign Summit 2014

Kongjian Yu, ESRI GeoDesign Summit 2014

A couple weeks back,  I attended the 2014 GeoDesign Summit at ESRI, in Redlands. I was incredibly inspired by  examples of how GIS has been used by people in different fields from all over the country and all over the world to aid in analysis of a wide range of issues. Presentation topics ranged from urban economic development, to  vegetation patterns that maximize passage of wildlife, to the layout of services in Latin American favelas.

One of the most memorable talks was the keynote address by Kong Jian Yu, founder of Turenscape.

Yu is a rock star of Landscape Architecture. Most of his firm’s work is in China. My favorite are the wetland landscapes that merge urban form with  ecological esthetics. These landscapes have strong visual and experiential component but also are designed to maximize ecosystem services. Central to the provision of ecosystem services in a country where 75% of surface water is polluted, is the cleaning ability of wetlands. Other ecosystem services provided by wetlands include flood control, habitat, photosynthetic output, carbon sequestration, sediment retention and cultural and recreational value. Wetlands are only one component of “ecological infrastructure,” an infrastructure that promises to minimize management intervention while providing this wide range of benefits. Where natural wetlands have been removed, restored or constructed wetlands can still provide some of these services. This is in contrast to built infrastructure projects of the last century, typified by encasing rivers in concrete channels, which are designed to maximize one single thing: transporting stormwater quickly to the ocean.

Ecological Infrastructure. Kong Jian Yu at ESRI's 2014 GeoDesign Summit

Ecological Infrastructure. Kong Jian Yu at ESRI’s 2014 GeoDesign Summit

Kong Jian Yu at ESRI's 2014 GeoDesign Summit

Kong Jian Yu at ESRI’s 2014 GeoDesign Summit

In China, Yu advocates that ecological security is a matter of national security. Landscape planning is a matter of national defense. Ecological infrastructure must be invested in, developed and maintained.

Over thousands of years, China has struggled with devastation caused by flooding. Like in southern California, China’s flooding issues have been related to population growth, devegetation, and pressure to develop the landscape in a way that compromises its ability to provide flood control.

In his doctoral dissertation work at Harvard, Yu used GIS mapping and analysis to show that despite the country’s recurrent struggles with flooding, that flooding actually only affects 2.2% of China’s surface area. If flooding only takes up 2.2% of the land, then is it possible to simply “make friends with floods” and accept the fact of flooding? One could simply reserve these zones for flooding, develop elsewhere, and not have to worry about flood damage anymore.

Yu made it sound so simple. Though comments from the audience acknowledged the perils of the top-down style of planning that occurs in China, I was still inspired by Yu’s ideal of how ecological infrastructure can integrate science-based approaches to land management with a new esthetic that embodies ecological values. 

What would an ecological esthetic look like in Southern California? Our plants and seasonal cycles are charismatic– but in a subtle way. Our esthetic might be about how shades of  rust and silver transform into various shades of green after the winter rains.  Or  how every rainy season tells a different story, and how that story is told through the composition of wildflowers we see in the spring as well as in the way water chooses its own path through the alluvial plains. How can southern California make friends with floods?

Proceedings from the 2014 GeoDesign summit can be viewed online. Yu’s presentation can be downloaded here.


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