It’s sedimentary, my dear Watson

May 27, 2011 § 4 Comments

Calling your attention to an excellent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times this past week, Let the River Run – providing some historical context for the construction of dams on the Mississippi River that have contributed to the massive loss of coastal wetlands along the Louisiana coast (they lose approximately 25-30 square miles a year) and floodplain development – and therefore heightened flood risk, and background to the recent opening up of the Morganza spillway.  The piece also gives space to an often unconsidered, forgotten, human dimension: the forcible relocation of Native Americans, in the middle of the 20th Century.

To those unfamiliar with the issue, dams trap sediment, but sediment builds and rebuilds river channels, floodplains, wetlands and coastlines – via flooding.

So dams interfere with this natural process, and we (the collective we, who have handed responsibility over to our Publics Works departments) are then stuck with the management problem of clearing dams and basins of sediment and all sorts of things to manage downstream effects. We need to make the connection: this story about the Mississippi and its management problems has information for us. Their trapping of sediment had downstream effects, our trapping of sediment has downstream effects. And in an emergency situation, flooding had to be brought back into the picture…meanwhile we in LA fight over whether or not to clear basins of sediment to prepare us for inevitable large storms.

What’s missing from our discussions is recognition of a San Gabriel Mountain-sized elephant in a corner of the room: the absence of a long-term sustainable solution, one that involves some measure of floodplain restoration, in-channel sediment transport. How much money have we sunk in diesel fuel alone over the decades to truck this stuff around, supplanting the free, emissions-less, work of gravity?  And how much more are we willing to spend? How many more oak woodlands or canyons are we willing to fill with dirt that naturally washes downstream? How many times will we watch increasingly rare species colonize in debris basins only to be wrenched out to protect downstream humans? Some of the outrage and fighting over short-term management issues is a worthy reaction, a wake-up call to the fact that surprise! our rivers aren’t exactly healthy, but I believe that we need to refocus on that not-healthy-rivers bit, reach a little further in our scope, and recognize the beautiful simplicity of a gravity-based solution.  That, yes, entails dealing with my favorite two words (after sediment and flooding, that is): political will.

Reading the L.A. Times, between this fine piece about a far-away river, and our local flood control dramas, such as the Devil’s Gate sediment removal, may make your head spin for the lack of consistency in perspective and understanding, insofar as the Times editorial staff is keeping a much narrower view of managing our waterways in the name of public safety. Would they ever acknowledge the value of floodplain restoration as a key to unlocking the sediment troubles at Devil’s Gate and beyond? Perhaps someone in Louisiana is writing an op-ed to that effect, albeit no doubt while grumbling about the Morganza spillway.

News and Events – 13 July 2010

July 13, 2010 § 2 Comments

LAist photo of George Wolfe navigating the L.A. River. For more navigability stuff, watch the Rock the Boat movie and read lots of coverage - links and details below.

UPCOMING EVENTS

> From 3pm to 5pm this Thursday July 15th 2010 join the Village Gardeners and TreePeople to trim and mulch native vegetation on the L.A. River in Sherman Oaks. Event details here.

> Watch the film about the 2008 Kayak expedition that proved that the L.A. River is navigable today! Rock the Boat screens this Friday July 16th 2010 at the Audbon Center at Debs Park. That’s at 4700 Griffin Avenue in Highland Park, easy walk from the Southwest Museum Metro Gold Line Station. Birding walk at 6:45pm. At 8pm two films screen.  First: Paddle to the Sea – a short film based on the classic children’s book. Second: Rock the Boat. Admission is free – though donations for Rock the Boat will be accepted. More event information at Audubon and Facebook.

> From 8am to 3pm this Sunday July 17th, Jenny Price leads a Hidden L.A. car caravan tour of the Los Angeles River. Features tacos and cream puffs. More information and registration here.

> **UPDATED – POSTPONED SEE COMMENT BELOW The city of Los Angeles LID (Low Impact Development) ordinance will be heard at the 9am Tuesday July 20th 2010 meeting of the city council’s Energy and Environment Committee, which takes place room 1010 on the 10th floor at Los Angeles City Hall. Background on LID here and here. Committee agenda will be here, once posted (should be up Friday this week.) Follow the LID city council motion 09-1554 here, including RSS feed. 

RECENT NEWS

> Another excellent L.A. River documentary is now available online. Watch The River Under the City of Angels by Fred Kaplan (27 minutes, 2010.) It’s very personal and poignant, with lots of great footage from all up and down the Los Angeles River, plus interview footage with Lewis MacAdams, Ed Reyes, Carol Armstrong, Scott Wilson, Jenny Price and others. Well worth watching!

> There’s a lot of coverage of last week’s big Los Angeles River navigability announcement. The L.A. Times‘ Louis Sahagun has the best coverage. Yes, better than L.A. Creek Freak… though I think we got the news online slightly earlier and we also covered the actual source documents, and the planned park on Compton Creek. After creek freak’s really quick video of EPA’s Lisa Jackson’s announcement, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s folks posted much better quality edited video here.
Some worthwhile coverage:  KPCC radio has excellent audio. Other good reads at Chance of Rain, High Country News, Ballona Blog, Curbed L.A., LAist, River NetworkModern Hiker, and even Mayor Villaraigosa himself pens a piece at Huffington Post. For the sort of  “Navigable? Are you kidding?” response, check ProfessorBainbridge and Legal Planet.

> The Pasadena City Council met last night to consider building soccer fields at Hahamongna nature park. We’re hoping to report more on this as we get more news (or to link to a full account), but the council voted 4-3 to proceed with fields at the site. Read Creek Freak background on the issue here and visit Save Hahamongna to get news and get involved. 

> Dredging Today “dedicated to dredging” reports that Dutra Dredging has been awarded a $1.3M contract for dredging the Los Angeles River estuary. Your federal stimulus funds at work.

> The White House and GOOD magazine like Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale. L.A. Creek Freak was there in April 2010!

Deciding Hahamongna’s fate. Again.

July 7, 2010 § 12 Comments

"The original bridge over the site of the Devil's Gate Dam. As of 1987, there is no longer a reservoir. The site may be seen from Highway 210, north of the Arroyo Seco and south of Jet Propulsion Laboratory." 1920. Source: LAPL, Photo: 00017346

We’ve touched on this before, but today is a day of blogger solidarity to protect Hahamongna in its current state. The Pasadena City Council will meet on Monday, July 12, to vote on whether or not to place soccer fields within this natural park that contains a now rare thing in the greater LA area: oak woodlands and riparian and wetland habitat.

Details for the meeting:

Monday, July 12, 6:30-8:30pm; at 100 North Garfield Avenue, Pasadena, CA

« Read the rest of this entry »

Soccer at Hahamongna?

April 21, 2010 § 3 Comments

Aerial view of Hahamongna. Photo from (and linked to) Arroyo Seco Foundation website.

Once again, active recreation and our dwindling natural resources are being pitted against each other.  This time, it’s at Hahamongna, a basin on the Arroyo Seco next to JPL.  Devil’s Gate Dam holds back the Arroyo’s flows, infiltrating some of them into the Raymond Basin, the aquifer that supplies a lot of Pasadena’s water.  Above ground, wetlands and oak woodlands abound, a rare finger of habitat extending down from the San Gabriel Mountains.

Should soccer be carved out of this? « Read the rest of this entry »

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