El Niño Doesn’t Correspond to L.A. River Flooding, La Niña Does

February 29, 2016 § 1 Comment

The interview as it appeared in Friends of the L.A. River's Current News nearly 20 years ago

The interview as it appeared in Friends of the L.A. River’s Current News nearly 20 years ago. Click to enlarge.

Something came up in a recent discussion I was having about current spate of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers make-work projects to degrade the L.A. River in the name of El Niño. If you haven’t seen it, the cutting vegetation and installing dirt-fill barriers along the edges of parts of the river, resulting in nutty bike path detours.

What makes me sad is that the L.A. River generally hasn’t flooded during El Niño years, but instead mostly during La Niña years.

I know this from an excellent interview that FoLAR bird expert Dan Cooper did with climatology professor Richard Minnich back in 1998. I ran excerpts from this in 2010 – a drier La Niña year with some big storms. Below is the whole article.

Talkin’ El Niño
An interview with Dr. Richard Minnich of University of California Riverside, by Dan Cooper

Richard Minnich is a professor of biogeography and climatology in the Department of Earth Sciences at UC Riverside. He has been studying weather patterns and landscape ecology in Southern California and Baja for the past two decades, and recently spoke with FoLAR’s Technical Advisory Board chair, Dan Cooper, in Riverside on March 6, 1998

Dan: Dr. Minnich, let’s begin with the basics – what causes flooding in L.A.?

Rich: Two components are involved, long-term and short-term causes. In the long-term, the ground has to get completely saturated by rain; water hitting dry ground won’t do a thing. Now, in the short term, it’s the hourly rates throughout the day that are important. These rates are what cause catastrophic flooding like we had in 1938.

Dan: What kind of rain are we talking about?

Rich: Ballpark rates, maybe 20 inches in a day in the Transverse Ranges (incl. the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mtns.).

Dan: Twenty inches in one day? That’s typically what we get in a year.

Rich: In January ’43, it rained 20″ in the mountains, but it was on dry ground so nothing happened. Now downing the coastal plain where everyone lives, all that concrete has led to the potential for flash flood conditions – the water has nowhere to go but into the channels. But even without concrete, major floods are possible – the floods in ’38 occurred before the whole plain was concrete and the rivers were completely channelized.

Dan: So 1938 must have been a big El Niño year…

Rich: Pretty neutral, actually. Neither El Niño nor La Niña conditions were recorded that year. Another neutral year was the winter of 1966-67 – the Transverse Range got 30 inches in December of ’66. The Transverse Range got 30 inches in December of ’66.

Dan: So El Niños don’t coincide with flooding in the L.A. Basin?

Rich: The three spectacular El Niños we’ve seen this century have been 1940-1, 1982-3, and again in the past season [1997-8]. Not one of them caused extensive flooding in the basin.

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L.A. River Clean-Up and Day of Service Tomorrow

April 29, 2011 § 2 Comments

L.A. River Day of Service - click for full flier image - art by Leo Limon

It’s covered on plenty of sites elsewhere, but Creek Freaks should definitely plan to come to tomorrow’s Friends of the Los Angeles River La Gran Limpieza – the annual Great Los Angeles River Clean-up. Clean 9am to 12noon Saturday April 30th 2011 at over a dozen sites from Long Beach to Tujunga. This year the multi-site event is combined with city of Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa’s Day of Service. The riverly day concludes with a 12n-2pm celebration at Rio de Los Angeles State Park – including a free concert by Ozomatli! « Read the rest of this entry »

Short Film on L.A. River Fishing

September 26, 2010 § 4 Comments

Here’s an excellent recent short documentary about fishing in the Los Angeles River. It features Carmelo Gaeta, Camm Swift, Sabrina Drill, and Friends of the Los Angeles River’s Shelly Backlar. I especially enjoyed the footage of biologists Swift and Drill surveying fish species via seine netting technique. « Read the rest of this entry »

Piggybacking on good news

July 16, 2010 § 16 Comments

"Broadened River" and new development concept for the Piggyback Yards. Source: http://www.piggybackyard.org

"River Strand" concept with new development at the Piggyback Yards. Source: http://www.piggybackyard.org

Even while LA River advocates were busy fighting to protect the river in a controversy over its Clean Water Act status, some of the same defenders were actively pursuing a vision for the river as it can be, balancing flood protection, habitat and development. Yesterday, Friends of the Los Angeles River unfolded this vision, put together by talented urban designers, architects, and landscape architects, at a press conference on the roof of the Sheriff’s Department parking lot – the perfect venue to see the target of all this visioning: the Piggyback Yards along the Los Angeles River.

Two alternatives explore the possibilities for restoring a reach of the Los Angeles River, providing off-channel flood storage, open space, urban connectivity, and infill development. Big props to Lewis MacAdams and FOLAR for conceiving and shepherding the vision, bringing the designers together with rail experts, hydrologists and hydraulic engineers, planners and agency folks – and big props to the design teams of Perkins+Will, Mia Lehrer + Associates, Michael Maltzin Architects, and Chee Salette Architecture Office. And, personal thanks to Mia Lehrer for giving me an opportunity to also be part of the team looking at riparian restoration issues! It’s exciting to see restoration design become integrated with vision planning for Los Angeles.

Check out the vision in detail at this beautiful website by Jackie Kain and her crew on the Piggyback Yards.

Great L.A. River Clean-Up this Saturday May 8th

May 4, 2010 § 1 Comment

Clean-Up Volunteers - photo from FoLAR website

From 9am to 12noon this Saturday May 8th 2010 is Friends of the Los Angeles River’s annual Great Los Angeles River Clean-Up. The event takes place at various sites from Long Beach to Tujunga. This is a great event for going down to the most wonderful sites along the river, hanging out with other creek freaks, and helping make our rivers a little cleaner and healthier. For details, see FoLAR’s website.

Note: the screening of Rock the Boat scheduled for May 8th has been rescheduled to Friday May 21st. More info on that soon.

FoLAR’s Black Friday

February 13, 2010 § 3 Comments

Friends of the Los Angeles River

Some bad news from Los Angeles’ oldest river advocacy organization: Friends of the Los Angeles River is facing dire financial straits.

Yesterday, Friday February 12th, 2010, facing difficulties in meeting payroll, FoLAR’s board made the difficult decision to downsize greatly. FoLAR laid-off half its staff: both educational  director Alicia Katano and membership program director Ramona Marks no longer have jobs. Remaining staff, executive director Shelly Backlar and president Lewis MacAdams, have had their hours trimmed to part time.

FoLAR was founded in 1986. For about a decade, it was pretty much a  lone voice for the river. Since the mid-1990’s the Southern California watershed restoration movement has expanded to include numerous other groups. As various other non-profits and agencies planned, built, educated, legislated, and advocated for river restoration and renewal, FoLAR played a vanguard role in pushing the political envelope. Without FoLAR leadership (including building coalitions and initiating legal actions) existing state parks at the Cornfields and Taylor Yard (Los Angeles State Historic Park and Rio de Los Angeles State Park, respectively) would not exist.

I worked for FoLAR from 2005 to 2007, helping rebuild the organization after another fiscal crisis which saw a staff of four reduced to one  part-time executive director. I hope that FoLAR leadership will learn lessons from these crises and make the changes needed for FoLAR to again be strong and relevant and to again play a needed leadership role in L.A.’s watershed restoration movement.

News and Events – 2 February 2010

February 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

Cheongyecheon creek in Seoul, South Korea - photo: rinux via wikimedia

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