News and Events – 16 April 2009

April 16, 2009 § 1 Comment

N-n-n-news:

South East Trees' Latest!

South East Trees' Latest Masterpiece!

> The new Cudahy River Park opens along the southeast stretch of the Los Angeles River!  What will North East Trees think of next?

> L.A. Streetsblog looks at federal stimulus money going to California bicycle projects – looks promising that funds will go to the lower Arroyo Seco Bikeway.

> Friday-tomorrow noon is your deadline for entering L.A. Creek Freak’s first-ever contest.  Win the Audubon Center at Debs Park’s guide to Animals of the Los Angeles River by merely commenting on our blog.  Right now the odds are better than 1 in 10.  No purchase required.  Void where prohibited.  Your results may vary.

>Friends of the Los Angeles River’s 2008 fish study is now on-line!  Creek Freak reviewed it here – one of our most perennially popular posts! Now let me tell about that one that got away…

E-e-e-events:

>Tomorrow, Friday April 17th at 2:30, the City of LA hosts a talk  on the revitalization of Seoul’s  Cheong Gye Cheong river.

>This Sunday afternoon, April 19th, Long Beach’s Wrigley Area Neighborhood Alliance hosts tours of the Dominguez Gap – a restored wetland park along the lower Los Angeles River.    Creek Freak visited the site recently and the wildflowers are blooming beautifully!

>Also this Sunday, April 19th at 3:30pm, Friends of the LA River hosts a walk along the scenic Glendale Narrows stretch of the L.A. River.  Meet at Steelhead Park, on Oros Street in Frogtown.

>Support your local bloggers Joe Linton and Damien Newton as we teach you how to blog like we do – plus mucho other useful free stuff on the web at our Internet Skills Class on Tuesdays April 21st and 28th.  We teach it again May 4th and 11th.

Spring cleaning opportunities abound:
> This Saturday April 18th at Taylor Yard with North East Trees.  Yo! it’s Earth Day!
> Next Saturday April 25th at Taylor Yard with North East Trees and local Obama folk.
>Saturday May 9th at Taylor Yard and many many other sites with Friends of the L.A. River.

>On April 25th and 26th, Urban Photo Adventures leads their Los Angeles River photography tour – see and capture some of the grittiest industrial sites along the mighty Los Angeles.

Bike the Emerald Necklace on the San Gabriel River and the Rio Hondo with the city of El Monte’s Tour of Two Rivers bike rally on Saturday May 16th.  Then bike the Los Angeles River on the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition’s River Ride on Sunday June 7th.

Places to Visit: Rio Vista Park in El Monte

September 23, 2008 § 7 Comments

(This is the first in a “Places to Visit” series. I hope we’ll blog about various parks/streams/places and other noteworthy spots so that you, my faithful readers, can go and visit and enjoy these places!)

Rio Vista Park 2

I first visited Rio Vista Park as part of last week’s conference on the San Gabriel River. Rio Vista Park is located on the Rio Hondo in the city of El Monte. It’s slightly difficult to find as it’s tucked away in a residential neighborhood, but well worth it. The address is 4275 Ranger Avenue, El Monte CA 91731. It’s on the west bank of the Rio Hondo directly across from the El Monte Airport, and a short walk or bike ride upstream from the El Monte Transit Center. (Note that the park is on the opposite side as the Upper Rio Hondo Bike Trail – to get there from the bike path, go west on Valley, right on Arden, right on Bisby and right on Shasta)

The current Rio Vista Park, which opened June 2008, is a rehabilitation and expansion project of an existing small park – and the site has a good hybrid/palimpsest feel of an older site that has been enriched by recent additions. The project was spearheaded by Amigos de los Rios partnering with the County of Los Angeles, the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, and the city of El Monte. It’s part of what Amigos de los Rios call the Emerald Necklace – a large string of parks on the Rio Hondo and San Gabriel River.

Rio Vista Park 1

The park celebrates multiple histories of the site, from the Tongva Native Americans to Hick’s Camp. Shade structures (visible in the picture on the left) are designed to resemble Tongva kich (pronunced “keesh”) housing made of thatched willow cuttings. Informational signage details the Tongva names and uses for native plants growing on-site.

Hick’s Camp was a colonia – a longstanding village that housed working class families, mostly immigrant agricultural workers. Hicks Camp occupied the park site and most of the surrounding neighborhood beginning from 1900 until it was demolished in the early 1970’s. Former residents of Hick’s Camp still gather for reunions. The park commemorates this history with a listing of the the names of Hick’s Camp families and a large camp map both etched in the sidewalk at the park entrance at Ranger Avenue. Interpretive signage explains the history of the site with time lines and historic photos. These tell important stories including the 1933 Berry Strike and the 1940’s successes in desegregating El Monte schools. Historic photos show the youth of the camp swimming and playing in the adjacent, still-natural Rio Hondo.

The park features an ample grassy area, picnic tables, a tot lot (with playful child-activated running water features) and an exercise course. The site features bioswales that detain and infiltrate stormwater. The plentiful new vegetation along the Rio Hondo is all native, with plenty of oak trees. Surrounding the park are more great gates by artist Brett Goldstone.

When folks from the conference visited the park last Tuesday night, there were plenty of local families using the park for walking, sitting and exercising. Mothers walked with strollers; kids cruised on the bmx bicycles. The winged residents were at home there, too: A small raptor (which we think was a juvenile Coopers Hawk) flew in and rested a while on a eucalyptus branch. We walked and toured the park, and looked east out over the Rio Hondo running wet in a concrete canyon and imagined what this place was and what it will be again.

Building a Healthier San Gabriel River Watershed Day 2

September 19, 2008 § 3 Comments

San Gabriel River Watershed (from LA&SGR Watershed Council website - click for larger image)

San Gabriel River Watershed (from LA&SGR Watershed Council website - click for larger image)

 If it’s Wednesday and I’m in El Monte, this must be the second day of the Watershed Council‘s Building a Healthy San Gabriel River Watershed conference.  I neglected to mention earlier that day one concluded with a very delicious dinner at the recently expanded Rio Vista Park.  I’ll blog about that park very soon.

Day two had plenty of informative speakers – a bit more focused, less broad than day one.  Irma Munoz, of Mujeres de la Tierra, spoke on doing real community engagement, not just minority outreach.  Irma tells it like it is – especially how critical it is that we listen to and respect our stakeholders.  Munoz got quite a few questions from agency staff who (it seemed to me) wanted her to reveal the secret trick to making connections with the community.  There’s no shortcut for real respect and transparency and knocking on doors.  Travis Longcore, of the USC Center for Sustainable Cities, spoke about the false dichotomy between cities and nature (and local impacts on the Loggerhead Shrike also called the Butcher Bird).  Ken Schwarz, an environmental restoration engineer for Horizon Water & Environment, discussed changing approaches to flood control channels urban streams, including hopeful examples from Napa, Sonoma, and Ballona Creek.  He brought up an interesting aspect that I think is underappreciated locally – integrated channel maintenance(!) and restoration. With all our integrated plans, there hasn’t been much focus on how go about maintaining existing channels and rights-of-way to better restore ecological functions… hmmm… there’s a whole blog entry that we could do with that one… soon.  Ellen Mackey, the Watershed Council‘s native plant guru  Senior Ecologist, spoke about the importance of emphasizing locally native plants.  She’s been instumental in coming up with the very-native LA River Master Plan landscaping guidelines, mapping vegetation on the San Gabriel River, and is also looking at that pesky maintenance issue – by coming up with a site-specific park maintenance manual for park staff and the community.  I will try to get my hands on this and share it soon on this blog.

Climate change was the subject of the second panel, with Rich Varenchik of the California Air Resources Board giving a broad overview of the state’s plan to implement AB32.  It mostly boils down to a much needed massive energy-efficiency plan (with some some smart growth and low impact development thrown in.)  For me, the most interesting speaker of the whole day was Stefan Lorenzato of the state Department of Water Resources.  Lorenzato spoke about how climate change is shifting how we look at watershed management.  In the unpredicability of future climates, he stressed that we should move away from monitoring for static goals, and look at “gradients.”  Our strategy should create rich resilient mosaics, not monocultures.  He connected this with a look at unpublished research that he’s involved in that shows the roughness of various stream channels.  It turns out that, at some flow volumes/speeds, some vegetation (ie: willows) turns out to be less rough (which is to say, allows more stream flow volume) than bare channels.  This means that some vegetation in a channel doesn’t necessarily reduce that channel’s capacity.  I will try to track this study down and blog on it, too (gotta keep a list of the promises I make here.)

The day ended with a media panel: Louis Sahagun of the Los Angeles Times, and Steve Scauzillo of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.  They each spoke movingly of growing up along the then “lush jungle setting” of the San Gabriel River and how their journalism has brought environmental issues to light.  The creek freak bloggers could learn a thing or two from these veteran journalists… especially about getting out a good “summary lead.”  I have to work on that.

Changing Historical Alignments of the San Gabriel River

Lastly, here’s an image from Eric Stein’s presentation on day one of the conference.  I blogged on this before, but didn’t have the visuals to show you.  The maps on the left show how the course of the San Gabriel River has changed over time.  Click on the image to download the full 17MB SCCWRP report.

Well… there’s was quite a bit more that went on at the conference… but that’s my summary of the formal high points.  The best informal aspects of conferences being those times where I get to catch up with many of the other creek freaks from throughout the southland.  I’m grateful to and looking forward to more informative events from the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council.

Throwing the waters, a real throw-down near El Monte

August 4, 2008 § 3 Comments

 

Lexington Wash/Rio Hondo, and the San Gabriel River bed, between Bassett and El Monte.

Scene of the fight: Lexington Wash/Rio Hondo, and the San Gabriel River bed, between Bassett and El Monte. Source: USGS circa 1900

You’ve all probably heard the Mark Twainism, “Whiskey is for drinkin’, water is for fightin’.” Here’s a tale that brings the phrase to life.  “Turning” or “throwing” the waters, i.e. the digging of ditches, placement of dams, or other methods to redirect river flows out of one’s property – and onto someone else’s – was apparently not unheard of. In 1867-68, the San Gabriel River took over the Lexington Wash (which joined, or was part of, the Rio Hondo), with serious consequences for some.  From the James P. Reagan interviews of 1914, in which George H. Peck sets the stage:

“…(t)he place is still known as the Old Peck place.  It was a mistake to have bought the land on the river, but we did not know it at the time.

In 1868 our troubles began with the river.  We lost about 150 acres that year, and each succeeding flood took its quota of spoils until there was barely 150 acres left of the original 480 acres which my father bought.

Lexington Wash was commonly known in those days as Lick Skillet Wash.  In those days and even now the river bed was higher than the land on each side.  When the floods came down it was no difficulty to direct the water to either side of the river bed.  The water would flow readily either way if left alone it would usually split and go in each direction.  However, it was not left alone.  

In our case, the water began washing away our land and we wanted to protect our place and get rid of the water.  Many times I have gone up the river, taking a few Indians with me to move a few boulders about and get the water going the way we wanted it to.  By placing a double row of boulders across the stream it would raise the river water level enough to throw the water over the other way.  

Of course, it brought opposition for people on the other side did not want the water either.  It finally became serious, and when a man wanted his work to stand it was necessary to stay with it, armed with a double-barrelled shot gun…

Mr W. R. Dodson complains of his bad neighbors:  

In 1889 he had a house washed away and quite a piece of ground.  The house stood just above where the bridge is now.  He says the principal cause of the big water in 1889 in the west of El Monte branch of the San Gabriel river was on account of the people on the east or Bassett side of the San Gabriel turning the water over into the west branch. 

He says sometime in about 1890 himself and others built a rock dam about half a mile above the Peck place, to keep the water over in the old or east channel of the San Gabriel.  The dam was some 300 or 400 feet long, and about two to two and one-half feet high.  He himself paid about 50 men for 2 or 3 days work, and he claims parties from down Downey way — the Scott people and Jim Durffy – came up and turned the water back into the west branch, and helped the water to tear down their dam.  He claims their dam stopped the water from coming down the west side, and would have continued to do so if the other parties had left the water alone. 

He says another time he had about twenty men working up there and 3 or 4 from the other side came to turn it back.  Says he had a shot gun with him, and told his men to go ahead, and the other parties to beat it, and they beat it.

He says there has been more or less fighting and turning of water for the last thirty years; the people of the east side turning the water to the west side, and the people of the west side building dams and trying to keep it from coming that way.

He says they had more water in the Rio Hondo at El Monte in 1914 than every before.  Says Davis, the rock quarry man, was mostly to blame; took all the rocks out of the stream and on this side of the Santa Fe for about a mile, and that naturally made the water run to the westerly, or El Monte side.  

Mr. Walter P. Temple recalled the events:

..(t)here were efforts by various parties to turn the river back to its old channel but there were other parties who wished it to continue to the westward and who would undo or help to undo the work of the first parties.  It became serious for a time and force was used in the way of shot guns to maintain the levee built…

Mr. Victor Manzanares chimed in:

…(t)here used to be some trouble between the Americans who then were trying to turn the river either to the east or the west. Sometimes some men would go up above El Monte where the river divided, and put a dike or bank across the river to turn all of the river to the east or back to the original bed. Other men would find it out and go up there and tear their work down and turn the water down the west side, which would come down and join the Rio Hondo. There was some bad feeling about turning this water from branch of the river to the other and some times it was necessary to guard the work with a gun to get it to stay there.  I know three men who were sent up there at night to break one of these levees…

And Mr. Jose Silva:

I never knew much about the changing of the San Gabriel river to the west of El Monte.  We have always known the San Gabriel to pass over to the Bassett side and think that is where a river has always been and where it belongs, although there are a good many people who think that it should go over west of El Monte, and who will object to all of the water being cut off and turned to the Bassett side.  

…I have heard that many of the old time Americans have put small levees of sacks and sand to turn the water from one side to the other according to where they wanted the water to go.  Mr. Peck used to turn the water to the west while Mr. Dodson wanted the water to go through the east side.  There was some strong words about it and sometimes a man would have to stay on his work with a shotgun to insure its staying there.  I have heard that Mr. Durfee was interested too, but I do not know any of the men who did the work…When the water was running it was easy to turn the river either way and a man with a pick or shovel could easily turn the water…”

Here’s Mr. Durffy’s side of the story:

Mr. Durffy says that about 1889 the water from San Gabriel Canyon broke out of the old bed just below the Santa Fe tracks, where the steel bridge is, and went westerly toward Duarte, and then down on the westerly side of El Monte.  The Santa Fe and some of the people down at El Monte decided to turn it back into the old channel one Sunday, and he, and others interested did not say what the names of the others were, did not get wind of it until Saturday afternoon, and he came to town to get an injunction, but County offices were all closed up and he could not get an injunction out.  The Santa Fe (b?)ought out quite a bunch of men and quite a number came up from El Monte early Sunday morning and commenced building a dam to turn the water back into the easterly branch, or where it had run before it broke out.  He and some others that were interested in keeping the waters over on the westerly side as it had gone over there from natural causes, and it was the lowest side, found by experimenting with a shovel, and as the other side has all the disadvantage of a direct drop from 2 to 2 ½ feet, that one man with a shovel was worth more than 50 men on the other side building up, and they decided they did not need an injunction.  He says part of the water has gone there ever since. 

He says he does not know anything about the rock dam Mr. Dodson built about half a mile above the Peck place, and claimed that some people from Downey and the Scott people and himself helped the water tear down.  He thinks Mr. Dodson is mistaken; and anyway the dam he built could not have amounted to much in keeping the water from going over El Monte way, as it was too far south to help much; that most of the water went over on the west side before it got down that far.

We know the river was a difficult neighbor – I’m not so sure about some of these people either!

 

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