El Niño Doesn’t Correspond to L.A. River Flooding, La Niña Does
February 29, 2016 § 1 Comment
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.
L.A. River Clean-Up and Day of Service Tomorrow
April 29, 2011 § 2 Comments
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
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
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
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
- Inspirational Korean daylighting on Cheongyechon creek (presentation) – Thursday February 4th 2010 at 6:30pm, Korean Cultural Center, 5505 Wilshire Blvd, L.A. 90036. (Also read L.A. Creek Freak article on Cheongyechon)
- Friends of the L.A. River fundraiser dinner – Saturday, February 6th 2010 at 5pm, Union Station.
- C.I.C.L.E. Urban Expedition Creek Freak Bike Ride – Saturday, February 20th 2010 departing at 12:30pm from L.A. River Center, 570 W. Ave 26, L.A. 90065. Free, family-friendly beginner-friendly bike ride on the brand new Elysian Valley bike path – including commentary by creek freak’s very own Joe Linton. (Also read L.A. Creek Freak’s article on the new path)
RECOMMENDED RECENT NEWS
- Garvanza Park will soon receive a North East Trees water harvesting makeover (90042 Highland Park blog)
- Louis Sahagun’s wandering Santa Ana Sucker story (L.A. Times)
- There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza – harvesting rainwater (Andy Lipkis’ blog)
- Low Impact Development for city of L.A. (L.A. Times)
- The subconscious art of graffiti removal (Wooster Collective)
La Gran Limpieza is this Saturday!
May 6, 2009 § Leave a comment
This Saturday May 9th from 9am to 12noon is La Gran Limpieza – the 20th annual Great Los Angeles River Clean Up – hosted by the Friends of the Los Angeles River. It’s a great event that includes t-shirts, food, music, corporate sponsors, thousands of people, and… oh yeah… tons of trash leaving our local waterways!
Your creek freak blogistas, Jessica and I, have been cleaning up the river at these events for many years… and it still seems to get dirty when we turn around. What gives with that… maybe we also need to prevent that trash from getting into the river in the first place. Seeing the amount of disposable plastic and styrofoam in the river, does make me think about my own consumption patterns.
There are many sites from Tujunga to the San Fernando Valley to Pasadena to Bell to Long Beach. Sites are on the main stem of the mighty Los Angeles, as well as the Tujunga Wash, the Arroyo Seco, and Compton Creek. They’re all listed at the FoLAR website. Nearly all these sites are the vegetated soft-bottom stretches – the very nicest parts of the river, but also where trash gets stuck on vegetation – so this is a great chance to go and spend some time getting to know the nicest and most scenic parts of our river. See you down by the river!
If you miss this Saturday, you may have to wait until Coastal Clean-Up Day in September!
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.
Fish in the Los Angeles River
October 28, 2008 § 37 Comments
If you spend time along the Los Angeles River, sometimes, usually at the periphery of your vision, you’ll notice seeming incongruous splashes in still waters. You may wonder – was that a fish that just jumped or am I imagining things? You’re not imagining things, there are actually lots of fish in the Los Angeles River. Not as many and not the same kinds as have been there historically, but still plenty, and seeming more lately than in the recent past. In this blog entry, Creek Freak will school you on a bit of the river’s fishy history, and cast our nets into its waters today.
Let’s start way back with the fossil record as uncovered by researchers at the La Brea Tar Pits. Three fish species have been documented there: Oncorhynchus mykiss (steelhead/rainbow trout), Gila orcutti (arroyo chub), and Gasterosteus aculeatus (three spined stickleback.) Fossil evidence and trapped samples also show many amphibians and freshwater invertebrates, including the extinct river shrimp mentioned in a previous post.
Archduke Ludwig Louis Salvator, in his 1877 Los Angeles in the Sunny Seventies, notes the following tantalizing fish: “the salmon, Quinnat salmon (Salmo quinnat), abundant between November and June; two kinds of trout, the brook trout (Salar iridea); and the salmon trout (Ptychocheilus grandis).” These names, based on an internet search, are today known as the king salmon, rainbow trout, and Sacramento pikeminnow. Neither the pikeminnow nor the king salmon have been verified by other sources. However, an errant chinook was observed several years ago making its way up Ballona Creek – historically a distributary of the Los Angeles River. Perhaps he wasn’t errant, but a homecoming descendant of Salvator’s Quinnat salmon?
According to Blake Gumprecht’s The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death and Possible Re-Birth (p.26), historically at least seven species of native fish were common in the river: southern steelhead, Pacific lamprey, Pacific brook lamprey, arroyo chub, unarmored three-spine stickleback, Santa Ana sucker and Santa Ana speckled dace. All of these species are gone from the river today (though a couple persist in some tributaries.) The Pacific brook lamprey is extinct. The steelhead, stickleback and speckled dace are officially endangered species; the sucker and Pacific lamprey probably should be. Of the historic fish species, the Arroyo chub are perhaps doing best, though in a small portion of their historic range. Reintroduction of the arroyo chub was the focus of Pasadena’s recent habitat restoration efforts on a soft-bottom stretch of the Arroyo Seco – a tributary of the Los Angeles.
Now and then in early- to mid- 20th-century accounts, there are reports of fish in the river; here are a few examples from the Los Angeles Times. In an August 5th 1923 article Drain Pipe Ike Waltons, the Times reported a “Mexican youth” fishing with a screen having caught “a number of carp and one large flat mud fish” in the Los Angeles River bed. On November 14th 1937 an article Extra! Three-Pound Bass Caught in Los Angeles River tells the story of Justo Najjora who went to the Los Angeles River for sand, but brought along a net to catch some crayfish and ended up catching a 3-pound bass. A March 1st 1940 article Jail Trusty Catches Fish — Yes, in Los Angeles River told (in demeaning language) about an imprisoned Native American named William Greyfox who bare-handedly caught a 25-inch 6-pound steelhead. Pity Poor Fish in LA River (March 11 1941) questions whether Fish & Game trucks need to be brought in to save steelhead in the river. A March 31st 1941 article Cycling Couple Catch Fish in Hands in Los Angeles River tells of a couple (Mr. and Mrs. Ernest L. Shockley of Glendale) who were bicycling along the river and caught a 10-inch steelhead near Los Feliz Boulevard.
Unfortunately the general tone of these articles is one of great surprise to find that there are actually (gasp!) fish in the river. Given the long history of Los Angeles River fish, it seems a bit strange to us that reporters would expect not to find fish there – though, at the time, the river was very degraded and considered a dumping ground in many areas.
In 1993, the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum (NHM) produced a report on the biota of the Los Angeles River (not currently available on-line, but available at the downtown Los Angeles library.) The report includes a section entitled The Past and Present Freshwater Fish Fauna of the Los Angeles River: With Particular Reference to the Area of Griffith Park by Camm C. Swift and Jeffrey Seigel. This excellent report appears to be where Gumprecht got most of his information on fish history. The historic accounts include plenty of important details: migration throughout parts of the river by season and by age of the fish species, habitat requirements for spawning, and details of historic accounts where fish species were sighted and collected. The report included a series of four fish sampling events from May 1991 to January 1992 at various sites in the river stretch near Griffith Park. Fishes collected were: more than 1100 mosquitofish, about 70 fathead minnow, 19 tilapia, 10-12 carp, and 1 goldfish.
Anecdotally, since around 2004 or so, it seems that fish are easier to spot in the river. In the Glendale Narrows and the Sepulveda Basin, there are plenty of people fishing, and it’s not uncommon to see the dark silhouettes of fish moving through the waters. One of the most reliable spots for this is looking off the downstream end of the Burbank Boulevard Bridge. There are a few on-line videos showing this (relatively-polished and amateur.)
In September 2008, the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR) published their second State of the River Report entitled The Fish Study. FoLAR collected fish samples at four sites in the Glendale Narrows and found results similar to the 1993 NHM study. Sampling each site twice in August and September 2007, they caught 1214 individual fish. The take included 668 mosquitofish, 271 tilapia, 92 green sunfish, 83 fathead minnow, 58 carp, 24 black bullhead, 7 Amazon sailfin catfish and 1 largemouth bass.
Given that many of the fish caught are eaten, the FoLAR study also assayed fish samples to test for toxicity. The FoLAR report found relatively safe low levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury. PCBs were highest in carp (9.4 to 16.3 parts per billion) though still below the California Office of Environmental Heath Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) advisory level (21 parts per billion) for folks eating fish three times a week. Mercury was highest in sunfish (20-50 parts per billion) though also below the OEHHA advisory level (70 parts per billion) for folks eating fish three times a week. Higher levels are likely to accumulate in older larger fish. The study states that its sample may not be sufficient to be conclusive (most of the carp analyzed weren’t mature enough or large enough to accumulate lots of toxins,) but overall it doesn’t look too bad. Cooking tips suggest that it’s safer to eat the fillet than to make stews or soups (as chemicals can concentrate in the head and guts.) Copies of the report are available from FoLAR.
There are quite a few places to fish along the river. The most popular fishing spots are the deeper ponding areas in Elysian Valley: immediately downstream from the 2 Freeway (around the end of Ripple Place) and around the ends of Shoredale Avenue and Harwood Street. Fishermen informally interviewed use tortillas or canned corn for bait.
It’s encouraging that there are lots of fish in the river. Why should we have have expected anything else? Even these non-native fish support other species, including osprey. But before you liberate your goldfish (or other aquatic pets) in the river, please consider that introducing non-natives can have a terrible effect on the native populations of fish and amphibians. They are especially notorious for eating the eggs and young of our native frogs!
Fish are a critically important indicator of stream health. Restoring steelhead runs can’t be done by restoring just the main channel though just one city, but will require a watershed approach, with continuous functional streambed habitat restoration from the mouth to mountainside tributaries. Parks along the top of the river (take your pick) are good. Side stream habitat restoration projects (including along the Lower Arroyo Seco in Pasadena and along the Tujunga Wash just north of Valley College) are even better… but we’re going to need to get into the channel bottom and remove some concrete for us to restore fish habitat.
Lewis MacAdams is fond of saying that we’ll know that our job is done when the steelhead return to the Los Angeles River. They’re endangered, but there are a few of them out in the ocean today, testing the Los Angeles’ waters now and then, waiting for us to do our part to heal our streams and welcome them back to waterways they’ve inhabited for millennia.