News and Events – 8 January 2011

January 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Act now to save Arcadia's threatened oaks! Photo by ecotonestudios


> If you haven’t read Josh’s article yesterday about the urgency of action to prevent the county’s astonishingly wrong-headed plans for burying Arcadia’s oak woodlands – read it and take action! Demolition is scheduled to begin next week. Here’s a set of links of  yesterday’s blogger solidarity day post to save this irreplaceable site: Altadena Hiker, ArcadiaPatchBallona BlogBipedality, Breathing TreatmentChance of Rain, Echoes, Greensward CivitasL.A. Creek Freak, L.A. Eco-Village, L.A. ObservedPasadena AdjacentPasadena Daily Photo, Pasadena Real Estate with Brigham Yen, Slow Water!, The Sky is Big in Pasadena, Temple City Daily Photo and Weeding Wild Suburbia. Thanks also to Sierra Madre Tattler!

> Oiled Wildlife Care Network reports an oil spill in the Dominguez Channel on December 22nd 2010. Their team “recovered three oiled birds:  one Pied-billed grebe, which died, and two American Coots.”  As of January 4th, OWCN reports that  “no responsible party has been identified, and the source of the spill remains unknown.” Full story at link.

> ArroyoLover reports on the drawbacks (pun intended) of new archery range fencing proposed for Pasadena’s Lower Arroyo Seco Nature Park.

> L.A.’s Daily News reports a Shadow Hills incident where a “car raced downhill, bouncing over speed bumps before brushing by horse and rider, spooking them to the curb. [The horse was] injured [and ultimately perished] when she became trapped in a storm drain debris screen[…]. The driver did not stop.” Interestingly the article calls for changes to the storm drain trash grates, but seems to let the criminal speeding driver off the hook. Full story at link.

> If you think L.A.’s La Niña rains were bad, read Circle of Blue‘s reports on disastrous El Niño rains in Colombia and Venezuela.

> The Los Angeles Times has an impressive photo of water churning through the San Gabriel Dam during recent tests. Also at L.A. Times: environmentalists file suit to block Newhall Ranch development imperiling the Santa Clara River. And, further afield, plans for the future health of the Klamath River.

> The Project For Public Spaces has an extensive conference proceedings document that serves as a sort of handbook for waterfront design/place-making. Their top recommendations (as distilled by me) are: multiple destinations, connected by trails for walking and bicycling.

Drastic Declines in World Fisheries - New York Times via Cyborg Vegan Cannibals

>Cyborg Vegan Cannibals has two scary graphs on the precipitous decline of world fisheries. One above and the other at the link. Maybe it’s time to watch Dan Barber’s video again. (Thanks to TrueLoveHealth for sharing the CVC link!)


> The city of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation hosts a Low Impact Development update on Thursday January 20th 2011 at 1pm at their Media Center Offices. Details at L.A. Stormwater Blog.

Discourse and distraction. In other words, California water policy.

March 20, 2009 § 3 Comments

This may be grim reading.  I’m sorry.

Back in Los Angeles, I’ve had a few days to digest the water policy discussion from the Salmonid Restoration Federation‘s annual conference in Santa Cruz.  Indeed, with the upcoming March for Water on Sunday, I’m thinking about it in the context of local water issues and discussions.

For me, the take home message from Santa Cruz is that the salmonids are the canary in the proverbial coal mine that is California water.  For every culverted road and dammed river or stream, there is a political career at stake or an agency policy exercising an interest group’s political will over our water resources and the life that depends upon them, canaries be damned.

The interest groups – and alliances – are numerous and overwhelming.

And we in Southern California are one of them.  Beyond kvetching about sprinklers running in the rain and people who spray their sidewalks with water, we the public are largely silent.  The piscine “canary” of our local coal mines, the LA and San Gabriel Rivers, is unconscious, our groundwater contaminated and depleted, and we look far afield for water that allows us to live beyond the means of our ecosystem.  The public rarely engages policy makers on these big picture issues.  In one conversation, I was told that people in Sacramento don’t think the public in Southern California cares about protecting northern California’s water.  I am always amused by that argument, given that many cities in central and northern California don’t meter their own residential water users -someone may be ranting about us without even knowing what they consume.  And we SoCal city-dwellers only consume 20% of the water shipped south by the Bay-Delta, and have held water consumption levels relatively stable despite population growth, so we do deserve some props.  Yet as you may have read in an earlier post, I believe we can improve even on that – and hopefully by the end of this, you will feel that to be a worthy goal, if for no other reason than to extricate ourselves from some mind-bending politics.  

I’ve also been told that Sacramento needs us to want the water, so they can keep the projects going. For whom?  The other 80% of exported water goes to agricultural interests, at a nicely subsidized price to keep agricultural production in California competitive.  Now I like California produce, and I absolutely support the idea of locally-grown produce. But at the same time, I hear that some ag interests then re-sell their subsidized water to our utilities (at market rate) while converting ag lands to more sprawl.  

To further complicate the mess, a conference speaker noted that there’s tension between the ag interests around the Bay Delta (around Sacramento) and the West San Joaquin Valley. So it’s not that the ag interests are “all in it together” – they too are competing (or fighting) over this precious resource.  

In addition to farmers, there’s the energy companies and irrigators and fishermen and Indian tribes and of course environmentalists who fight over water.  For a glimpse of how complicated it can be in just one case, check out this blog by Felice Pace at the High Country News, and you’ll see that it’s Yurok and Trout Unlimited and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman vs. Hoopa and Klamath Riverkeeper and the Northcoast Environmental Center, over the relicensing of dams by an energy company. I’m really not clear why anyone’s taking a position to make PacifiCorp’s life easier.

While we argue, a salmon is slamming itself into the wall of a dam, exhausting and injuring itself before it can spawn.  Others are dying in overheated waters, the result of too much water being diverted.  In some people’s opinions, we are beyond talking about fisheries collapsing – they are collapsed.  

And while all enviros deplore the state of salmon, delta smelt and other aquatic life in the Bay Delta, there are plenty of disagreements over solutions. Is the Bay Delta too saline, or not enough?  Does a peripheral canal restore the Bay Delta or not? Are we screwed no matter what we do? Whose scientific charts and graphs are more convincing?  The Blue Ribbon Task Force proposed a restoration vision, but there are critiques from the grassroots.  Yet through much of this arguing, there is a consensus that Southern California will want its water, and has the power to get it.

But! According to an attorney speaking at the conference, only surplus water is supposed to go south.  Surplus meaning that which is left over after the Bay Delta has received enough to maintain its water quality (which has declined over the years) and those with primary water rights (Sac Valley farmers) have gotten their allotments.  These basic principles have been routinely breached in order to ensure that water goes south.  How?  By declaring states of emergency.  Indeed, according to Michael Fitzgeralds at, the “state and feds wrote contracts promising 130 million acre feet” of water, when the average Delta flow is 29 million acre-feet, resulting in overdrafts of Bay-Delta supplies during the 90s as water agencies in the south cut in line to enforce their entitlements.

(Right about now, my mind is swinging back and forth like an oversized ping-pong ball.)

And then it spills over into social justice issues.  Some enviros have really stuck a stinky foot in the mouth, conflating water consumption in the San Joaquin Valley with immigration and crime (HUH?), while at least one politically-connected Latino organization has taken the position that when we declare emergency drought conditions, flows are restricted (just the opposite of what we heard above). They argue this means unemployment, so we need secure water exports (i.e. infrastructure) in order to keep jobs for Latinos secure.  In other words, peripheral canal = environmental justice.

Meanwhile on the sidelines of the bickering, communities of color in some agricultural areas are simply shafted in terms of access to potable water (it’s contaminated from fertilizers); only through tremendous grass-roots efforts is anyone addressing this.  

Our rivers may be running dry, but the torrent of self-interest runs rampant over legitimate needs, reasonable use, and the longevity of an ecosystem.  How do we get past this to preserve the resources that sustain us, and equitably and fairly distribute the surplus? 

Contemplate what water means to you, to all the life that surrounds you.  People are gathering, March 22, bringing their own unique beliefs and appreciation of water, at the Cornfields/LA State Historic Park at 10am.  March for Water.

Live from Santa Cruz

March 6, 2009 § 1 Comment

Hello Creekfreaks.  Today I’m live-blogging from the Salmonid Restoration Federation conference in Santa Cruz, CA.  As sobering as it is to reckon with the plummeting salmon populations statewide, it is hard not to be inspired by the sight of natural streams.  Two days in so far, and we’ve had field tours and workshops on dams & dam removal issues, fish barrier removals and fish passage devices, and daylighting of culverted streams.

Daylighting is the removal of a length of pipe (culvert) that was originally installed to replace a live stream.  Culverting destroys aquatic and riparian life, and was employed extensively in the LA basin.  Daylighting opportunities exist at a number of public park sites in LA, such as at Lafayette Park, Lincoln Park, the Chester Washington Golf Course, Sycamore Grove Park, Ladera County Park, and Edward Vincent (Centinela) Park.  I am all too familiar with agency reasons for not daylighting.  Hearing that a public agency chose to greenlight a daylighting, however, was a pleasant surprise.  And to daylight at a town center, right by the public library and ballfields was downright cool. 

Of course it’s not that simple.  The town of Portola Valley had a competition to build this town center.  All but one master plan concept proposed the daylighted stream.  Ironically, the city chose the one without the daylighting.  Public pressure ensued and the town council voted to allow the stream daylighting to be included in the plan.  It was not unanimous, however, and so the community was forced to create a nonprofit organization and fundraise separately to pursue the project.  The entire length of creek that had been buried was not daylighted – about 350′ remains below ground, hopefully to be daylighted in the future.  


Of course I left my camera at home! So sketches from the conference will have to suffice!  Here, the daylighted reach of Sausal Creek.

Of course I left my camera at home! So sketches from the conference will have to suffice! Here, the daylighted reach of Sausal Creek.

The daylighted reach has gentle slopes to the creek, can handle flood flows, and has an open planting plan of wetland/meadow plants mixed with tree clumps that maintains sightlines down to the creek.  The upper banks are vegetated with native grasslands/meadow plants that transition to a lawn for community gatherings and performances.  And, it’s an ephemeral stream.  Like a lot of ours.  The community felt it was important to restore even this least appreciated of stream types.  Another super-cool feature is the planned retrofit of the stormdrain pipe (they didn’t remove it, but rather graded the new stream away from it) for use as an underground cistern.  I hope to see the day that our public areas of Los Angeles look like the south coast equivalent of this. 


Check out Friends of Sausal Creek’s project description.

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