Eagle Rock in the Rainy Season: A Challenge!
February 21, 2010 § 5 Comments
In his memoirs, Eagle Rock pioneer settler Cromwell Galpin paints a vivid picture of farmers at the mercy of unpredictable rain patterns during the flood of 1889-90.
…In October of 1889 it began to rain, and it kept on until nearly seven inches had fallen; it also kept on raining a lot more in the months following, until May 1890, the local rain gauge indicated forty-two inches and Eagle Rock Valley was afloat, though the highest mountains still poked their heads above the flood. « Read the rest of this entry »
News and Upcoming Events – March 11 2009
March 11, 2009 § Leave a comment
This week’s leaks that pique creek freaks beaks! (eek!)
>Yesterday in Metblogs, Will Campbell reports that portions of the Ballona Creek Bike Path will be closed and closed some more.
>Yesterday the Eastsider Blog reported that the Los Angeles City Council passed Los Angeles City Councilmember Ed Reyes’ motion directing the city’s Planning Department, General Services Department and River Revitalization Corporation to do the groundwork for a Request for Proposals process for the re-use of the Lincoln Heights Jail. The LA City Historical-Cultural Landmark Lincoln Heights Jail is located on Avenue 19 adjacent to the Los Angeles River – a stone’s throw from its historic confluence with the Arroyo Seco. The initial art deco building was built in 1930 with a less remarkable addition tacked on in 1949. The jail has been closed for many years. Its ground floor has housed a few cultural institutions, including the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts, though it’s best known as a film location.
>On February 24th, Daily News reporter explores home damage attributed to construction on the Moorpark Street Bridge over the Tujunga Wash in Studio City. LAist reports that neighbors fear more of the same with rehabilitation of the nearby Fulton Avenue Bridge over the Los Angeles River.
>Speaking of the river at Fulton Avenue in Sherman Oaks, the Village Gardeners of the Los Angeles River have their own new website which includes an active blog! See below for their Earth Day Clean-Up event.
>Speaking of home damages, On February 7th, the Long Beach Press Telegram reported the latest in a series of local floods damaging homes in West Long Beach (in the Dominguez Slough watershed.) See also the accompanying photo gallery and the follow-up article. Maybe some multi-benefit watershed management strategies could help break this cycle?
Check out recent LA Times blogs coverage of:
> Restoration at Machado Lake in Wilmington (more-or-less at the mouth on the Dominguez Slough Watershed)
> Opening of the new extension of Ralph Dills Park – located on the L.A. River in the city of Paramount
> Replacing of the 1932 Sixth Street Viaduct over the L.A. River. This unfortunate project proposes to put a contemporary 6-lane highway in place of one of our most historic and iconic bridges. The bridge, undermined by internal chemical issues, does need some work, but stay tuned to see if the city can do something that respects its scale and beauty. (Read the comments which include “Who came up with the bland design for the new bridge?”)
>Want to save energy, prevent greenhouse gas emissions and stem the tide of global warming? Worldchanging reports that conserving water is one of the most effective ways to reduce energy use. This is especially true in the city of Los Angeles where our pumping to deliver our water consumes about a quarter of all the energy we generate!
>This Saturday March 14th from 8am to 2pm, North East Trees hosts a day of service to remove invasive plants from the wetlands at Rio de Los Angeles State Park in Cypress Park.
>On Sunday March 15th, Friends of the L.A. River (FoLAR) lead their monthly river walk in Atwater Village. Meet at the end of Dover Street at 3:30pm.
>The L.A. City Planning Department hosts two public hearings about the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan – called the “CASP” (or maybe the CASSP?) The same meeting takes place on Monday March 16th at 3pm and 6pm at Goodwill Industries in Lincoln Heights.
>On Tuesday evenings from 7-9pm March 17th and 24th, L.A. Creek Freak‘s Joe Linton and L.A. Streetsblog‘s Damien Newton will teach our highly-informative internet skills class. Learn how to use easy, free internet applications to promote your non-profit and/or business. Start your own blog!
>Bicycle the Rio Hondo at the unfortunately-named-but-actually-really-fun 24th annual Tour de Sewer on Saturday March 21st.
>On Sunday March 22nd from 9am to 3pm, the March for Water will take place. Marchers will walk from Los Angeles State Historic Park to Rio De Los Angeles State Park to raise awareness of bring attention to the present water crisis taking place all over the world, our nation, the state and the city of Los Angeles. Conveners include Urban Semillas, Food and Water Watch, Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Green L.A. Coalition, and many more!
>On Thursday March 26th at 12noon at a Los Angeles Natural History Museum Research and Collections Seminar, L.A. Creak Freek’s Joe Linton will speak on “The Los Angeles River: Its Past, Present and Possible Future.” There’s no cost for the seminar, but if you’re not a member you’ll have to pay to get into the museum.
>On Saturday and Sunday April 17th and 18th from 9am to 12noon, the Village Gardeners of the Los Angeles River invite the public to help clean up, mulch, and plant natives at the Richard Lillard Outdoor Classroom in Sherman Oaks.
>FoLAR’s annual La Gran Limpieza (the Great LA River Clean-Up) will take place on Saturday May 9th.
>The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition hosts their 9th Annual Los Angeles River Ride on Sunday June 7th.
Of nexus and navigability
August 4, 2008 § 5 Comments
Is the Los Angeles River navigable? The recent kayaking adventure, documented here at LA Creekfreak and elsewhere, demonstrated that it is. The Army Corps’ definition of navigability, however, may relate more narrowly to navigation for interstate commerce. Perhaps if people fly in from out of state, spend some money on kayak rentals, sunscreen and snacks, we’ll fit the definition.
Until then, however, we’re stuck with technicalese to protect the River. As the Army Corps has noted, the officially non-navigable reaches of the River remain protected due to their “significant nexus“(link leads to ACOE ppt download on the topic) with the Navigable Water body reaches. Several Supreme Court justices ago, all that was needed to extend Clean Water Act protections to our southwestern rivers was evidence that a waterway was a tributary to a Navigable Water. Now it’s not so clear. I have heard conflicting things about tributaries and their status. A past, present, or potential future “significant nexus” needs to be demonstrated – basically someone has to prove that the degradation of a waterway would impact the water quality of the Navigable Water, and now each tributary to the LA River will need this level of investigation before it attains federal regulatory oversight (which does not guarantee physical protection, a topic for another day).
The River, like so many southwestern rivers and streams, had a great deal of variability to it. Some reaches may have been more like washes, where flows infiltrated into the groundwater; other reaches had perennial water flow. And if you go back a few hundred years, the lowest reach of the river was more like a broad wetland and forest floodplain that soaked up runoff like a sponge, with surface waters rarely reaching the ocean. These waterways were incredibly dynamic, shifting course when log jams or sediment would build up, forcing a new direction for the water to spread. Our mistake is in defining the river exclusively as the channel where we see water. Rivers function to transport water and sediment, dissipate energy, facilitate biological and chemical processes, and support habitat. In all rivers these functions depend upon not only the river’s channel but also its floodplain, and to some degree, its relationship to groundwater. A river is also the sum of its tributaries. The role of tributaries, the floodplain and groundwater may be even more pronounced in our southwestern rivers and streams, and our evaluation of the LA River should be inclusive of these relationships, not as the significant nexus, but as part and parcel of the River itself. This would be consistent with the Clean Water Act preamble, which states a purpose to restore and maintain “the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters”.
For many, we would feel a greater level of security knowing the River, in either its current or historic configuration, simply met the criteria of Navigability. Historical data I’ve reviewed provides interesting, if hardly voluminous, evidence of boating (& swimming, not really a regulatory criteria but fun info). Despite the widespread characterization of the LA River as “a river by courtesy at times” that, like its tributaries, “sink(s) into the sand in places…and seep(s) along beneath the surface for miles, to appear again,” (Charles Holder, 1906) the river and its mountain tributaries were popular destinations for fishermen of steelhead trout. Ludwig Louis Salvator*, in his enthusiastic travelogue, Los Angeles in the Sunny Seventies, even references the use of boats to capture these fish:
“…fine brook-trout and salmon-trout are also caught. The latter are usually taken with what are called gill-nets…The net does not touch bottom since the fish swim fairly near the surface, but is stretched diagonally across the stream or a section of it and floats with the current for several hundred yards or even half a mile while the fishermen follow behind in a boat.”
Unfortunately, Salvator does not identify specifically where this boating occurred, speaking only of mountain streams. It seems reasonable to speculate that boats following nets “with the current for several hundred yards or even half a mile” would need to be on a relatively flat reach of a stream, i.e. the Los Angeles River in one of its perennial reaches, such as at elPotrero de los Felizes Los Pescaditos,“a favorite fishing place on the east side of the river opposite Griffith Park”. Speculation, however, isn’t the basis for regulation.
But boating was also known to occur within the lower Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers’ floodplains. More quotes from James P. Reagan’s 1914 oral histories:
Mr. J. H. Orr, Compton, R. F. D. 1, 101 Home at Compton.
Mr. Orr has lived in this neighborhood for twenty-six years. In 1889 he says the whole country was flooded and to give an idea of how much water there was, he with some others rowed in a boat from Downey almost to Compton, that is to the S. P. R. R. track, tied their boat and walked across to Compton, bought their provisions and returned in the same way. The water was all over the country for six weeks and nothing could be done…
Mr. Lafayette Saunders, 2303 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach
…I have seen this valley solid across here between these mesas (Los Cerritos and Dominguez Hill) and nearly four feet deep. I rode in a row boat with two other from Long Beach to Wilmington and returned for provisions, and the water was from a foot of(sic) so to three and one-half feet deep.”
Here the boating is seasonal in character and really a response to the natural flood regime, in that lower LA River basin that had one time been like a sponge. Obviously this was not pleasure boating! Reagan also indicated that the Los Angeles River in the Glendale Narrows reach was good swimming:
Mr. Randall H. Hewitt, 529 Merchants Trust Bldg.
…The year 1876 was a dry year and no water flowed below what was called the “Toma” in those days, above the Downey St. Bridge, which is now North Broadway, where the boys used to go swimming….
(the Toma was a dam that diverted water into the zanja irrigation system)
Joe Bernal, Room 53, Temple Block:
Mr. Bernal was seen at his office today at noon. He was born and raised in Los Angeles… In his boyhood days he used to go swimming in the Los Angeles river when it flowed down Alameda Street. (Reagan)
While hardly likely to convince the Corps that the LA River meets their definition of navigability, these historical anecdotes hint at humanity’s relationship to the river’s more complex structure.
Not just the river, all the streams and wetlands of the LA area, really, have already suffered death by a thousand cuts through the draining, channelization and culverting of over 90% of them. The “significant nexus” test here just adds several additional tons of paperwork and bureaucracy under which to bury our remaining waterways.
*Special thanks to Brian Braa, landscape architect, friend, and Seeking Streams cohort, whose research genius found this author & document.
Throwing the waters, a real throw-down near El Monte
August 4, 2008 § 3 Comments
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!
LA Streams in early 1900
August 2, 2008 § 2 Comments
Los Angeles’ natural environment has obviously changed a great deal with its history. So much so that it is difficult for ecologists and historians to re-create a picture of LA before 1860. By 1900, a lot had happened to this region – lands that had been managed by the Tongva had been converted to ranching and grazing lands under the Spanish and later Mexican colonies, and subsequently farmed fairly intensively by Anglo-American settlers (a troublesome term, I mean Anglo in the way my hispano ancestors did, coming from the word anglosajón, English speaker). These landscape changes may seem subtle to our urbanized eyes, but they resulted in significant changes of habitat & vegetation, runoff & groundwater infiltration patterns, and water use (widespread pumping of the groundwater). So the streams noted in 1900 were mostly likely quite different in 1800. And we know that urbanization has resulted in even more dramatic landscape changes.
As Joe’s post noted, Blake Gumprecht’s the Los Angeles River: It’s Life, Death, and Possible Rebirth is an excellent description of the river, based on first hand accounts, and its demise into its current state. One source Gumprecht mentions in his book is a flood control engineer, James P. Reagan, who in 1914 interviewed old timers for their memories of floods and waters in LA. A colleague handed me a photocopy of Reagan’s interviews several years ago, and my sense of LA has never been the same. Here’s a juicy tidbit describing the Carson-Dominguez-Compton-Gardena area (more of these to follow as time for typing allows):
The Carson Brothers at Dominguez have lived there all their lives. Ed. Carson states that the river at one time ran along the foot of the hills at the Dominguez home place, 1824. They said that from Dominguez hill to Los Cerritos is considered the river. In 1858, perhaps it was the ’60-’61 flood, a boat came up from San Pedro and took the Carson family, who lived over in the valley east of the Dominguez home, off of their marooned and dangerous position and carried them over to the Dominguez place.
The floods in those days were not so damaging and did not wash as they do in these later days, for there were no railroad embankments to hold the water or to concentrate it, but the water was free to spread out over the valley and did little damage. And too, the valley was covered with a growth of willow, larch, and sycamore trees, together with grasses and other undergrowth which prevented a rapid movement of waters. The railroad fill from what is now Elftman and Watson, was washed out and the floods poured into the…Slough. This was 1889. About 1894 the Slough began drying up rapidly, and fish began to die by the tons. The stench became so bad it became necessary to burn and burn the dead fish. This greatly fertilized the land….
One excellent recent account detailing landscape changes with respect to our waterways is the study, Historical Ecology and Landscape Change in the San Gabriel River and Floodplain (careful! clicking on this link unleashes a 16.5 MB download but well worth the read!), put together by a great team of researchers out of Southern California Coastal Waters Research Project (SCCWRP), Cal State Northridge (CSUN), University of Southern California (USC), San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI), and the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council (LASGRWC). The project was funded by the Rivers and Mountains Conservancy (RMC). While we obviously can’t reclaim the landscape of 200 years ago, or even 100 years ago, we can recover some of our natural environment. More on that later.