World Water Day in L.A. Sunday March 14th

March 4, 2010 § 2 Comments

World Water Day comes to Los Angeles on March 14th

There’s a new event coming up that’s brought to you by the folks who put together last year’s March for Water. It’s the World Water Day L.A. festival taking place from 9:30am to 3:30pm on Sunday March 14th at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. The address is 900 Exposition Boulevard, LA 90007 and the free event takes place on the south lawn. It’s part of the museum’s Sustainable Sundays series.

There will be lots of entertainment and activities for all ages. This includes plenty of educational programs, like the documentary film series with speakers and discussions. Film screenings include:

  • 11am – ¡Aguas con el Agua!  Maywood residents fight for clean, drinkable water
  • 12n – Tapped:  The hidden truth about bottled water (Creek Freak reviewed here)
  • 1pm – Puberty Ceremony:   The Winnemem Wintu tribe’s struggle to practice traditional rituals on their ancestral lands (Creek Freak’s time spent with the Winnemem Wintu told here and here)
  • 2pm – Rural California Exposed:  Communities drinking water contaminated with arsenic and other dangerous chemicals

It’s a bottled-water-free event, so bring your own reusable water container. Lots more details at the World Water Day L.A. website.

You can never have enough posts about Freshwater Shrimp

March 26, 2009 § 5 Comments

Freshwater Shrimp collected from the Los Angeles River in 1922

Freshwater Shrimp collected from the Los Angeles River in 1922

Well… Jessica already broke this story months ago, but I figure we creek freaks can never have enough posts about freshwater shrimp, right? I can add a small amount of additional information about Syncaris pasadena – the species of freshwater shrimp that lived in the Los Angeles River less than a hundred years ago.

Today I gave a talk at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. It was more-or-less my typical talk with slide show that I have given in various forms for the last half-dozen years: the past, present and future of the Los Angeles River. I felt a little intimidated, as there were people in the audience who are historians and scientists who know more about the river than I do. I am a generalist. There are a lot of stories that I hear and repeat, and I don’t think too much about it when I repeat them to the general public. In my audience today were ornithologist Kimball Garrett, who is the main author of the 1993 study of the biota of the Los Angeles River (that report was one of main sources for my past L.A. River fish blog entry) and historian Bill Estrada, who has written the history of Los Angeles’ plaza… as well as other scientists, social scientists, and other experts. I had to watch what I said… and check in with these folks when I wasn’t sure.

90 Years, 90 Treasures

90 Years, 90 Treasures

The talk went fine. Lots of excellent questions, and I didn’t have to spend much time explaining words like “watershed.”

Afterwards, Bill Estrada and curator Sojin Kim took me out to lunch and rewarded me with some nice schwag. This included Bill’s book, greeting cards with images from the museum’s Forbes photography collection, and a small paperback book entitled 90 Years, 90 Treasures: Celebrating the 90th Anniversary of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (2003). Sojin mentioned that this book included the L.A. River shrimp. Sure enough, page 30 (shown at the top of this entry) features professional quality photographs of shrimp in their specimen jar, with the following text:

A Casualty of Urban Development
Although not as attractive as the city for which it is named, Syncaris pasadena, the Los Angeles River shrimp, is remarkable for keeping secrets. Once alive and well and found only in the Los Angeles River drainage, today it is extinct. The entire world knowledge of the species consists of 12 little individuals (average length 1 1/2 inches) gathered some 80 years ago and placed in a small glass jar. The specimens were then labeled, but the information was as vague as “Collected from the L.A. River, 1922, Pasadena.” We have no knowledge of what Syncaris pasadena ate, what color it was, how it behaved, or what role it played in the local ecosystem. It is a stark reminder of how much we have to lose through urban development if we do not take into account the indigenous inhabitants of the territory we claim as our own. Fortunately the Museum’s collections of Crustacea, the fifth largest in the world and the second largest in North America, represents the entire planet, including specimens from the Indian, Pacific and Antarctic Oceans.

It’s fun to see these photos and read the story of this precious creature. The account does leave me with a question. The L.A. River doesn’t flow through Pasadena, so it appears that these critters probably came from the Arroyo Seco or even Eaton Canyon Wash. Maybe it’s mislabeled, or maybe there is a practice of labeling specimens with the name of the watershed, instead of the individual tributary?

From the photo in the book, I can make out the inscription on the specimen card inside the bottle. The portion visible in the photo states, in precise hand-lettering, “L.A. River, Calif. / Coll. H. R. Hill / Alc. 75%”

I wonder about this H. R. Hill. In the sepia tone of my mind’s eye, he (though it’s not entirely clear that he is a he; I could be underestimating Heather Rosemarie Hill) is a mustachioed gentleman, wading knee-deep in the wild sycamore-lined Arroyo Seco streambed, a hundred years ago, collecting shrimp… for us.

Upcoming Events – 24 March 2009

March 24, 2009 § Leave a comment

At the L.A. Bike Summit, Siel (of the excellent Green LA Girl blog) warned me that some of my posts are getting too long… so I am going to try to keep it short and sweet here.

Cornerstone's Flow

Cornerstone's Flow

>River Theater Reading: TONIGHT – Come hear a staged reading of Cornerstone Theater’s new L.A. River play Flow written by Julie Hébert. It’s on Tuesday, March 24th at 7pm at Farmlab at the Metabolic Studio, 1745 Spring Street, Unit 4, Los Angeles, CA 90012.

>Creek Freak Speaks: Joe Linton will present on “The Los Angeles River: Its Past, Present and Possible Future” this Thursday March 26th at 12noon at a Los Angeles Natural History Museum Research and Collections Seminar. The seminar is free, but if you’re not a member you’ll have to pay to get into the museum. It’s at the Times Mirror Conference Center at the Natural History Museum, which is located at 900 Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles 90007.

>River Film Screening: On Monday March 30th at 10pm, watch Thea Mercouffer’s short film Heather and Goliath at the Reel Women Film Festival. The film profiles Heather Wylie, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist who faced suspension for kayaking the L.A. River. Screening takes place at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 theaters, 9036 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills 90211.

>Click: Urban Photo Adventures River Tour – March 28th and 29th
>Mulch: Village Gardeners Clean-Up – April 17th-19th
>Tour: Friends of the L.A. River tour, lead by Jenny Price – Sunday April 5th
>Clean: Great Los Angeles River Clean-Up – Saturday May 9th
>Bicycle: Los Angeles River Ride – Sunday June 7th

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.

March for Water on Saturday March 22nd!

March for Water on Saturday March 22nd!

>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

Fisherman showing off carp caught in L.A. River in Elysian Valley 2006

Fisherman Displaying Carp Caught in the Los Angeles River (Elysian Valley 2006)

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.

Los Angeles Times 14 November 1937

Los Angeles Times 14 November 1937

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.

The 1.5-2.5 inch long Mosquitofish, the most common fish found in the Los Angeles River (image public domain via wikimedia)

In recent years, the most common fish in the Los Angeles River is the mosquitofish. Pictured is the female mosquitofish, which grows to approximately 2.5 inches in length. (image public domain via wikimedia)

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.)

FoLAR's 2008 Fish Study

FoLAR 2008 Fish Study

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.

Freshwater shrimp of the Los Angeles River

September 27, 2008 § 5 Comments

Pasadena Freshwater Shrimp (Syncaris pasadenae), from abstract by Joel W. Martin and Mary K. Wicksten

Image from Joel Martin, Natural History Museum

Are extinct.  Of course.

But exciting news to me nonetheless.  This morning I went to give a talk to a group of educators and nonprofit organizations in a Partners program with the Natural History Museum/George C. Page Museum.  But it was I who learned so much, and wish we could have spent more time talking about the fascinating ways Los Angele’s culture, history, and ecology crash into each other, creating so much dynamism and interest.

I was stunned by a photograph of the Los Angeles River shrimp, bka the Pasadena freshwater shrimp (Syncaris Holmes, reclassified as Syncaris pasadenae*, that the Natural History Museum has in its collection, collected circa 1900.  It was once common to our lower elevation streams.  If you went to the L.A.: Light/Motion/Dreams exhibit you may have seen the actual specimen.  Was this a food source for the Tongva?  Had we tended our rivers and streams instead of concreted them, could we have cultivated this as a food source for us?  It speaks to the rich biodiversity that is native to this home of ours, if only we can appreciate and protect it.  By the way, a quick web search has shown that there is also a surviving cousin Syncaris holmes pacifica, California freshwater shrimp up in coastal northern California streams. I will refrain from tired – but accurate? – North/South comparisons.

*J. W. Martin and M. K. Wicksten, “Review and Redescription of the Freshwater Atyid Shrimp Genus Syncaris Holmes, 1900, in California,” Journal of Crustacean Biology (Summer 2004): 447–62.

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