Saving your creek

In several posts I’ve mentioned that technically, state and federal law doesn’t prevent the filling of a stream.  And it doesn’t – it sets up a process of mitigation, so that if a developer wants to fill a stream they have to restore one somewhere else. “No net loss” describes this philosophy, and I’d say the implementation of it has been….flawed.

But notwithstanding, you can still work with state, federal, and some local laws and regulations to fight for your stream, negotiate and maybe even win at protecting it.  I have found that local jurisdictions, like planning and building and safety departments can be woefully underinformed about their obligations to protect streams.  You may find you need to educate them, and they may resist being educated (sorry cities, but I’ve seen it happen…)

If there’s a stream and someone’s trying to fill it, lay concrete, rip-rap (boulders) or other armoring, here’s a quick check-list of agencies and agreements that need to be reviewed:

Streambed Alteration Agreement. California Department of Fish & Game must be notified of the proposed development, the developer/property owner must fill out the alteration agreement paperwork, outlining what they are doing to the stream, and work out a suitable mitigation program with DFG.  The more wildlife and native vegetation you have documented on your stream, the greater the mitigation will have to be. This holds regardless of whether or not there are endangered species on your property.  You may have nothing more significant that the non-native tree squirrel but the stream still has habitat value.

Clean Water Act Section 404 (Dredging & Filling).  This may not be applicable to your stream – but you should check.  If your stream is a “Navigable” waterbody as defined by the Army Corps of Engineers, or is a tributary that would harm a navigable waterbody if it is filled, then Section 404 applies.  It’s a permit, that limits or establishes mitigation for actions taken to the creek.  Contact the Army Corps regulatory division to find out if this law applies to your stream.

Clean Water Act Section 401 (Water Quality Certification). The Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB), a state agency, handles this part of the federal Clean Water Act.  Their job here is to make sure that the physical condition of water isn’t impacted by the filling of a stream.  Your job is to make the case to them that filling a stream degrades water quality – dredging impacts water clarity, for instance (although a temporary impact).  Lining a stream in concrete increases stream velocities, which can cause erosion and bank failure downstream.  Actions like that impact water quality.

The Porter-Cologne Act is a state water quality standard that should also help you and is tied to RWQCB oversight – although I’m not really familiar with what permits are connected to it and will expand this section as I find out.

Endangered Species Act. Now in the unlikely event that you do have an endangered species, you can turn to US Fish & Wildlife for support.  But bear in mind, they have relocated species and allowed developments to move forward…

Stream Protection ordinances. The best way to protect a stream is to enact an ordinance that simply bans development in the stream and its riparian zone.  Many cities have enacted such ordinances, the best ones have a comprehensive definition of a stream (in Southern California, we need to make sure the definition includes intermittent and ephemeral streams) and a variance or other clause that allows extra review for a developer who might otherwise lob a takings claim at the city or county jurisdiction.  Environmental protection has lost out to property rights over the last 8 years in the courts – so be sure to include a variance of some kind – otherwise your ordinance will just be a neat idea that doesn’t last a millisecond.

Of course, education and outreach always help.  And a good public turnout in defense of your creek could be enough to sway a Planning Commission – but not always.  So keep these agencies in mind, and consider the proactive approach of a good stream protection ordinance.

§ 6 Responses to Saving your creek

  • Bailey Wilson says:

    This is GR8 info…..

  • freddie hannan says:

    Metro/CalTrans has a plan to extend the Alameda Corridor/Interstate-710 up Avenue 64 with an interchange on Colorado Blvd. Plan 2 is to widen Ave 64 by 2 more lanes . Both plans are for Heavy Duty Diesel TRUCK traffic.
    If completed, the San Rafael Creek will be devistated, and possibly Johnston’s lake and maybe even the South Arroyo Seco.

    Please Contact CalTrans and voice a loud NO to this paln.

    And please spread the word.

  • Ricky Grubb says:

    Write a letter to on the LACFCD Big Tujunga Sediment removal project IS/MND ? Please do, ask them to release a small portion of the high quality sand being removed from behind the dam into the river below the dam for the replenishment of Arroyo Toad habitat. We have until june 26th to submit comments. Also Supervisor Antonivitch office is a good place to call and email.


    An MND can only be used (in place of an EIR) if all the projects resulting potentially significant effects are avoided or mitigated to below significance. This IS/MND ignores the project significant impact to Sunland’s Arroyo Toad critical habitat (subunit 7a), Arroyo Toads are now extirpated here due to Big Tujunga Dam, the capture and removal of sediment sand and gravel and diversion from our riverbed, that directly caused the revocation of Arroyo Toad critical habitat protection in Sunland’s portion of the Big Tujunga River Wash (subunit 7a)! This MND document don’t adequately address the indisputably significant impact of the unnatural alteration of riverbed sediment deposition (known as the fluvial process), insisting on removal of all the sand, and releasing none downstream, has a significant impact on the recovery of the Arroyo Toad in Sunland. Lower reach of the river below the Dam was designated final protected critical habitat (subunit 7a) for the recovery of Arroyo Toads. After 1981 something changed here, thats when the Dam operator first began removing the sediment from behind the Big Tujunga dam and trucking elsewhere (prior to 1981 all sediment was passed downstream). Excessive water flows in recent years flushed away the midstream sand bars and sandy rills Arroyo toads need, but scoured riverbeds didn’t cause 7a’s revocation of critical habitat designation, no! It was “the unlikelyhood of subunit 7a recieving any replenishing sand and gravel”, that doomed our toad habitat, due to guess who, the dam operations LACFCD sediment removal policy now exclusively employed, depriving downstream riverine Arroyo Toad habitat of replenishing sand. The use of a MND is not suitable in this case, not until the lower streach of the Big Tujunga River Wash recieves a percentage (as little as 10% will do), of high quality sand from the sediment removal project, a small percentage is easily passed downriver (it could be dredged and sluised with the dewatering of the dam), of the “high value” sand removed from the sediment behind the dam.

    The Big T Dam was recently (2001-2005) retro-fitted with a large sluise bypass, a hydraulic valve designed to pass sediment more naturally. It is currently under 25ft of sediment, apparently never having been utilized. LACFCD assures us in the IS/MND they will consider using the hydraulic gate in the future, after this project is completed!
    The gates and large hydraulic valves could be cleared of accumulated sediment and sand by dredging and passing it downstream during dewatering of the dam. Once cleared, during the storm seasom they can use it to pass sediment more naturally downstream, thereby helping prevent buildup of the additional 2.4 MCF the attached presentation projected to impound behind the Big T Dam during future storms the next 3-5 years.

    Ricky Grubb

    Naturalist and Photographer

    Sunland Tujunga

    • Ricky Grubb says:

      Anybody know if LACFD sediment removal policies have been revised? LACFCD has basically single handedly wiped out the Arroyo Toads by dredging every flood control impoundment (dams), and trucking away at taxpayer expense all the sand and gravel stream beds and beach cities formerly enjoyed.

  • Omid Hashemi says:

    Hello. My name is Omid Hashemi and I am trying to save a small unknown creek. It is drying out rapidly and its inhabitants (fish and crawsish) are dying. I want to find the source, the agency in charge, and learn steps to take in order to save it. Please email or call me. 323-899-9892. Thank you

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