Maywood Water Documentary Preview

March 16, 2010 § 2 Comments

Check out this short documentary on drinking water issues in the city of Maywood, California. In case our readers are unfamiliar with it, the city of Maywood is located in Southeast L.A. County, about five miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles – along the Los Angeles River and the 710 Freeway. It is the most population-dense city west of the Mississippi River, with about 40,000 people living in just over one square mile. Watch the 7-minute video for more info!

The video is a short preview of a planned as a 30-minute documentary, but we Creek Freaks think it’s great and already ready for plenty of circulation in its current form. Props to Urban Semillas and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water!

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Marching for Water

March 23, 2009 § 3 Comments

Youth Doing the Heavy Lifting at the March for Water

Youth Doing the Heavy Lifting at the 2009 March for Water

I had a good time at yesterday’s March for Water. The event was inspired by marches held in various parts of the world in support of the human right to water (including marches shown in the documentary film Flow.) Here’s an event recap and photo essay (apologies again for the blurry cell phone photos!)

My eco-village neighbor and friend Bobby Gadda and I bicycled over to Los Angeles State Historic Park (aka the Cornfields) in a light rain. The rain is great for my garden, and for our creeks and streams, but I was a little worried that it might mean a small turnout at the march.

Gathering at the Cornfields

Gathering at the Cornfields

We arrived at the park and lots of other folks had also braved the rains to participate. Umbrellas and makeshift trash-bag ponchos were the order of the day.

Raul Addressing Families Assembled

Raul Addressing Families Assembled

I checked in and caught up with friends, until Raul Macias drew together the families he organizes through the Anahuak Youth Sports Association. He thanked them for braving the elements and attending

Estamos Listos!

Estamos Listos!

The youth were excited and ready to start marching.

The Crowd Circles as the Dance Begins

The Crowd Circles as the Dance Begins

A large circle formed around the Aztec dancers and drummers. They gave an invocation to the four directions and commenced to dance, which they would continue as they lead the march. The intermittent light rain ceased.

Marching Commences

Marching Commences

The circle parted and the march headed northward along the edge of the cornfields. In the lead are photographers walking backwards, then dancers, then the mass of the march. The clouds part and the sun begins to shine.

Marchers proceeding north, lupines in the foreground, Chiparaki Cultural Center in the background

Marchers proceeding north, lupines in the foreground, Chiparaki Cultural Center in the background

The mass continues along the vivid purples and yellows of the cornfield’s wildflowers in bloom.

Dancers following the Police Escort (The historic Womens' Building in the background)

Dancers following the Police Escort (The historic Womens' Building in the background)

As the procession leaves the park and enters the street, Aztec dancers follow the police escort.

Young Dancer

Dancers Leading the March

Dancing for water.

Marching over the Bridge into Lincoln Heights

Marching into Lincoln Heights

The march made a left onto Spring Street, then crossed the Los Angeles River on the beautiful historic (but threatened) 1927 North Spring Street Bridge, proceeding into Lincoln Heights. Organizers did a good job of keeping the front moving relatively slowly, so that the stragglers in the back could keep up.

Marchers Showing the Water in Their Buckets

Marchers Showing the Water in Their Buckets

Many marchers carried buckets of water. This showed symbolic solidarity with folk in many parts of the world who have to travel by foot each day to get water for their families.

Boyle Heights Chivas in the House!

Boyle Heights Chivas in the House!

The march continued as Spring turns into Broadway and through 5-Points onto Avenue 26. These youth were carrying the banner for Boyle Heights Chivas, whose goalkeeper and I became friends. (I used to be a goalie a long time ago, when I played water polo.)

Melissa and the March

Melissa and Several Hundred of Her Friends

I was happy to run into some of the youth that Jessica and I accompanied on our state water tour last summer. In the foreground of this photo (in the dark blue sweatshirt, looking over her shoulder) is one of these youth: Melissa Castro. She goes to High School in Palmdale, and is a bright and fun person, and an excellent soccer player too. She mentioned that her feet were a little tired from marching, but that it wasn’t too bad.

Drinking Water Filling Station at a Fire Hydrant on Avenue 26

Drinking Water Filling Station at a Fire Hydrant on Avenue 26

The entire event was free from bottled water. Yaaaayyyy! This is no small feat… and really good for the environment. Organizers provided re-usable metal bottles. Along the 3-mile route there were several tap-water filling stations provided by the LA Department of Water and Power. Thanks, LADWP!

Capture Rainwater Not Wildlife

Capture Rainwater Not Wildlife

Participants carried handmade signs. I especially liked this slogan “Capture Rainwater Not Wildlife” as I capture rainwater in my garden.

Front of the March

Front of the March

Here’s another shot of the front of the march, with banners and signs. I was able to bike out ahead of the march as do a count as it headed up Figueroa and turned left onto Cypress Avenue. It was a quick count, probably not all that accurate, but I counted about 750 marchers.

March ending into Taylor Yard

March ending into Taylor Yard

The march ultimately turned left and made its way into the new Rio De Los Angeles State Park at Taylor Yard, the first 40-acres of a planned 100+acre Los Angeles River park there.

California Sunflower at Rio De Los Angeles State Park

California Sunflower at Rio De Los Angeles State Park

While things were getting set up (and blown down) I got a chance to ride around the park. The bright colors of the wildflowers at Rio De Los Angeles Park…

Corner Kick at Rio De Los Angeles State Park

Corner Kick at Rio De Los Angeles State Park

…matched the bright colors of the jerseys of the folks there playing soccer.

Councilmember Reyes Speaking

Councilmember Reyes Speaking

The many excellent speakers at the end included Los Angeles City Councilmember Ed Reyes, State Senator Fran Pavley, Department of Water and Power General Manager David Nahai, City Public Works Commissioner Paula Daniels and representatives from the Winnemem Wintu, who came down from Northern California to join us (which makes plenty of sense, because that’s where we import a lot of our water from.) Organizations presenting included Urban Semillas, Anahuak Youth Sports Organization, the Southern California Watershed Alliance, Food and Water Watch, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Green LA Coalition, Friends of the Los Angeles River, and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. Speakers tied together various topics including water conservation, global warming, reconnecting our communities with our rivers, and organizing and involving our youth. Winnemum Wintu elder Calleen Sisk-Franco invoked our relationship with our wild salmon, stating “without them, there won’t be us.”

Ollin takes the Stage

Ollin Takes the Stage

The weather became windier and cloudier as the Irish-Mexican music of Ollin rounded out the program.

Bobby and I rode home with Alex Kenefick and Ramona Marks on the access road along Taylor Yard, enjoying the windy sunny weather and the herons, cormorants and coots in the L.A. River.

Kudos to all of the folks who played big roles in making this event a great success. Here are a few that I actually got decent photos of:

Raul

Raul

Raul Macias,

Renee (left) with Claire of Amigos de los Rios

Renee (left) with Claire of Amigos de los Rios

Renee Maas,

Miguel

Miguel

and the inimitable Miguel Luna!

Exclusive Guardabosque Interviews!

November 22, 2008 § 2 Comments

Tonight L.A. Creek Freak had the pleasure to attend the Cena Comunitaria y Graduacion de los Guardabosques del Rio at the Los Angeles River Center. For all you gabachos in the house, that’s the Community Thanksgiving Dinner and Junior River Ranger Graduation. The event was hosted by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), Anahuak Youth Soccer Association, The City Project (which I work for), and featured guest of honor Assemblymember Kevin de Leon.

Junior Ranger Expedition in the Santa Monica Mountains

Junior Ranger Expedition in the Santa Monica Mountains

The Junior Rangers is a program for youth from age 7 to age 12, funded by the MRCA. It’s led by MRCA Naturalist Ian Griffith, and coordinated by Miguel Luna of Urban Semillas. Also playing a key support role has been jill-of-all-trades Angeles Gonzales. Fifteen Junior Rangers had completed the program and were sworn in by MRCA Chief Ranger Ken Nelson. The newest rangers are: Adrian Aranda, Axel De La Fuente, Roger Garcia, Daisy Gonzalez, Jorge Gonzalez, Cesar Lopez, Alejandro Mendez, Derek Morales, Jessica Mungia, Erick Quero, Jonathan Quero, Jose Ramirez, Jorge Rodriguez, Justin Sanabria and Brian Vargas.

State Assemblymember Kevin de Leon graciously and enthusiastically addressed (first in Spanish then in English) the formidable new ranger contingent. He spoke with optimism about taking concrete out of the Los Angeles River to make green spaces for fish, trees, and people. He stressed to the proud young rangers that they do their homework so they can go to college. The rangers, dressed in tan shirts with their names embroidered and rangers patches on their shoulders, posed with their assemblyman, smiling at the paparazzi photographers assembled.

Creek Freak was lucky enough that a contingent of young rangers consented to grant an impromptu interview during the course of their jam-packed evening. They’re busy folks who speak pretty fast, so I did my best to keep up – I hope I’ve gotten it down accurately enough. Derek Morales, Jose Ramirez, Jorge Gonzalez and Jonathan Quero (all ages 8 and 9) had this to say:

Junior Rangers Around the Campfire

Junior Rangers Around the Campfire

The best part of ranger training? “We were taught to make fire with a stick. There was a hole. You do it fast, touch it on the bottom. Do it really fast, and smoke just comes out!” according to Morales as he gestured, rubbing his palms together. The other three all echoed the interest in fire-starting in saying “yeah” and “it was cool.” Further elaborating on the most fun part of the training, Jose Ramirez recalled seeing a mountain lion. Details of this siting were very sparse as it was “far away,” though he expressed a concern at the time that it “would jump off and attack me.” Ramirez also spoke of when the group encountered the “bones of a rat eaten by an owl” and learning about “scat” which, he clarified, is another word for “poop.” Quero cited a highlight as a “trip to the museum” where they “learned about the solar system,” though he also said that the trips to the mountains were good, and, so, he concluded that the best part was really “all the trips.”

Lessons learned? Quero cautiously stressed “when camping, throw food in a trash can because bears will come.” Morales, returning to the fire theme, stressed the importance of “not playing with fire when camping” in order to avoid big forest fires. The young rangers again spoke smilingly about scat, and how much Ian told them about it.

Ranger Crew Cleans Up the Los Angeles River

Ranger Crew Cleans Up the Los Angeles River

Thoughts on cleaning up the Los Angeles River? The group was proud that they had pulled out a big piece of carpet that someone had dumped there. Gonzalez was happy to see lots of “little fishes” (likely mosquitofish) where they cleaned at the confluence of the river and the Arroyo Seco. Gonzalez further elaborated that there were places there where “when you step on it, it felt like quicksand.”

Future plans? “When he gets older” Ramirez plans to “help every animal and not litter.” Morales plans “to be like Ian, to be a river ranger and to teach other kids about rivers and mountains.” He also reminded me that Ian knows a lot about scat.

With all that, the young crew had places to go, so they ran off. I am looking forward to working with these hopeful young boys and girls as they grow up and take stewardship of our rivers and mountains. Kudos to all the folks involved in making this program a big success.

Just in from correspondent Miguel Luna

September 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

Here’s a message I received from Miguel Luna, all-around good guy and chief arbol of Urban Semillas (Miguel provided the photo, but I’ve added the links):

Sketch and His Son at the L.A. River / Arroyo Seco Confluence

Sketch and His Son at the L.A. River / Arroyo Seco Confluence

“Hey during the cleanup we had this guy show up, he was not there for the cleanup – though he was very pleasantly surprised to see people there.  He did not even know that there was a cleanup scheduled for saturday.  Anyways, he said he was lured there because he was following a book he purchased.  Guess what book? YOURS!!! he had it with him and said he had visited all the sites up to this one and was planning on visiting all the sites in the book.”

“He was there with his little kid. I thought you should know, if you don’t already, the impact you have on people’s lives and how lucky we and the river are to have you!”

(Joe’s note: It has been great to hear from folks who are using and enjoying my book.  Early on I would hear from people who had looked through the book saying things like “I like the look of your book.”  Later, I would get comments like “I read about Ernie’s Walk which I hadn’t known until I read your book.”  Both of these are great to hear, but the best comments are ones like what Miguel has passed along where my book has helped folks go and explore places on the river.  Shameless self-promotion: the book is titled Down By The Los Angeles River: Friends of the Los Angeles River’s Official Guide.  It was published by Wilderness Press in 2005.   It costs $17.95 and is available all over, including from my local independent bookstore Skylight Books.)

Swimming California Waters

August 22, 2008 § 1 Comment

“… whatever sense of personal renewal comes in swimming across a river, it is one that parallels the reclamation of the river itself… Each river has its own feel, taste, texture, its own flow, velocity. The stewardship of rivers will only be furthered by the intimate knowledge of these qualities.” Akiko Busch, Nine Ways to Cross a River: Midstream Reflections on Swimming and Getting There from Here

Agua University Youth, Leaders and Hosts

Agua University Youth, Leaders and Hosts

Apologies for not posting for a couple weeks, as, with Jessica, I’ve been away on a 2-week tour of California Waters. The tour was organized by my friend Miguel Luna of Urban Semillas / Agua University. With a wonderful crew of 15 high school and middle school youth, we toured various waters of California, learning about the impacts of dams, revitalized rivers, water politics, and Native Americans’ reverence for waters. All along we made connections with the sources and impacts of water that LA imports.

There were many excellent things about the trip (which I plan to use as material for three or four blogs), but the most remarkable thing for me was to swim in the varied waters we visited. I try to keep in shape by swimming a couple times each week in the downtown L.A. YMCA pool. I’ve often repeated the slogan that the Los Angeles River should be “fishable and swimmable” (echoing the 1972 federal Clean Water Act’s assertion that all our waters must be safe for wildlife and human health.) Up until now, that “swimmable” was more-or-less rhetorical. I hadn’t really pictured myself swimming in the often murky waters of the mighty Los Angeles. That is, until the past two weeks gave me a chance to swim in a number of rivers and lakes. This swimming has allowed me to better relate to these places – briefly to tangibly know and feel these waters.

Waterfalls on the McCloud River

Waterfalls on the McCloud River

What we call the McCloud River is known as the Winnemem by its people, the Winnemem Wintu. The Winnemem Wintu hold the river and Mount Shasta (where the river originates) as sacred sites. As part of a ritual that echoed the upstream journey of salmon, the Winnemem Wintu and their guests swim at three waterfalls on the river. Before the Shasta Dam made the river impassable, countless salmon made their journey up each of these ten to twenty-plus feet high falls – though one of the waterfalls is known to the Winnemem Wintu as “the place where salmon turn back.” The waters of the river were cold and clear. From so much swimming in urban pools, I was unaccustomed to swimming in waters with current. As I swam toward the falls, the current increased. The pounding waters of the falls become loud; the surface of the water agitated and the air full of water, making deep breathing difficult. The moment I let up, the current gently swept me back away downstream. Swimming the Winnemem waters, within that ritual, helped me to empathize with the strength of the salmon that had passed this way for eons before me.

We swam at two places along the American River. Initially we took dips at our campsite in Lotus which is very near Coloma where gold was discovered and precipitated the California Gold Rush.  The river there supports kayaking, rafting and inner-tubing, so (I overheard) this activity is facilitated by water releases from an upstream dam. Like clockwork at about 10am each morning, the river sublty starts to rise becoming more agitated on its surface.  It turns a shimmering blue as it reflects the sky. The more still waters along the shores are slightly warmer, and the waters nearer the center are cool with strong current. Though the river wasn’t all that wide, the combination of cooler waters and stronger currents made the crossing somewhat difficult for some of the youth who weren’t strong swimmers. I found myself in the role of lifeguard, swimming alongside youth as they swam across.

The other spot on the American River where we swam was on the American River Parkway in Sacramento. This stretch of the river is much wider and outwardly very calm. The water is fairly warm (though refreshing) and a bit murkier than upstream at Lotus. As I walked down into the waters, my feet sunk to nearly my knees into muddy soft bottom. Three of us, myself, Ernie and Carlos set out to swim to the other side. The current was present, but mellow, a little stronger in midstream, but not nearly as strong as upstream or on the McCloud. At about halfway across, Ernie decided that it was too far for him to swim, so we turned back. I had my heart set on swimming across, so I persuaded Carlos to try it again. Again about halfway across, Carlos voiced his concern that he wasn’t sure he would go the whole way. I assured him that it would be ok to turn back, but that I really did wanted to cross. He assented and we made our way to the far shore, upsetting a gaggle of Canada Geese that had settled there. Later in the trip he would thank me for pushing him to swim the whole way.

Eddie and Joe afloat in Mono Lake

Eddie and Joe afloat in Mono Lake

The next swimming was in the nearly surreal waters of Mono Lake. In the Eastern Sierras, the Mono Basin has no outlet to the ocean, so lake water has collected and evaporated for millennia, becoming saltier than the ocean. The waters were very still and felt thick and viscous. Youth (much leaner than I) who had difficulty floating in the previously mentioned rivers were excited to find that they could float very easily here. I dove in and felt my eyes mildly stinging. When I tried to rinse them off, I found that it wasn’t possible take the sting away with the salty water. We floated and paddled around. Lying on our backs, we were able to simultaneously keep our feet, hands and heads above water. Upon exiting, the water dried up leaving a coat of salt on our skin, which felt like it was stretching the skin taught. Mono is a strange place, with its odd tufa (rock structures formed by underwater calcium reacting with carbonate in the water), huge numbers of flies and tiny shrimp, it’s a sort of moonscape – beautiful, but somehow always a bit off from my expectations of what a lake should be. The quality of the water – and one’s weightlessness in it – reinforces this. The site is a storied one; its tales include those of Los Angeles taking water from this place and the long and largely very successful political struggle to achieve a balance to bring the lake back toward health.

After that we played at the beach of June Lake. Not far from Mono, but much smaller and (I think) a bit higher in elevation, June Lake has clear calm waters and a gently sloping beach. It’s not at all near as saline as Mono (I’d be grateful to any reader who can explain why these nearby waterbodies are so different – please comment.) Dozens of folks lined its shorefront, playing and swimming and diving off of one large rock. The youth and I felt like we were at the beach, albeit with nearly no waves. It’s a very pleasant spot to respite from the Sierran summer.

Now back in Los Angeles, I am plotting when would be a good time for a swim in the waters of the Los Angeles River. I am willing to brave the not-entirely-safe waters of the LA River and look forward to feeling the differences in the water as we steward our local waters to greater health.

A state water tour – seeing where our water comes from

August 13, 2008 § 1 Comment

The problem...and the solution?

LA Creek Freak may have been silent this past week, but hardly on recess.  Joe Linton and I were fortunate to be invited to join Miguel Luna and his Urban Semillas/Agua University kids on a statewide water tour.  In fact, Joe is still touring with the kids – I had to end my share of the fun early.  Miguel’s purpose:  to show kids how water travels from distant sources to LA (where most of our water comes from), and the impacts our consumption has on those sources.  He gave each of us a water spout, a symbol of both the problem and the solution.  

For some of the kids, this was the first time they’d gone camping, and bonding with nature has definitely been part of the experience.  Just two days ago I was watching kids jump onto the top of picnic tables as an overeager baby skunk came out of the bushes to feast on our leftover dinner.  But deeper experiences have also been presented, and made a powerful impression on us all.  We spent a week in the company of the Winnemem Wintu tribe, to whom the waters, landscape and presence of Mt. Shasta are sacred and intimately connected with their existence. We visited the McCloud River with them, heard stories about their lives and culture, and also about the struggles and challenges they face with water and tribal recognition.  

Mc Cloud River Middle Falls

Bottling plants are sending water away from Shasta – at the expense of local groundwater. Last year the tribe’s sacred spring ran dry for the first time in its very long history, and they are concerned that excessive pumping is the cause.  It is easy for us here in LA to not understand, or to forget, that there is more to life than commerce and commodity.  This water is the lifeblood of the Winnemem Wintu, it is precious and priceless. We Angelenos have done our share of unreflectingly pumping springs dry; I stand on the side that says we shouldn’t sacrifice culture for commerce.  

Additionally, the water bond proposed by Dianne Feinstein and Arnold Schwarzeneger would raise Shasta Dam, flooding much of their remaining sacred sites while still not rectifying the loss of the Mc Cloud (and 3 other rivers behind the dam) as salmon spawning grounds (you may have heard that this year-for the first time- California and Oregon fishermen were grounded because there’s simply not enough salmon). The water bond offers little in the way for community input, or a truly integrated approach to sustainable water management while promising more dams and diversions to us (follow this link to page 2 for an example of principles that could improve the bond).    

It was hard to leave such a beautiful place, and such beautiful people, sharpened by the awareness of our impact on their lives.  There will be more blogs on snippets of the experience, as well as missives from Joe, who is spending some time on the American River and then off to Mono Lake with Miguel and the kids.

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