Thankful on 37 gallons of water a day

November 24, 2011 § 11 Comments

You know how everyone always says there’s no way Angelenos could live on local water alone?

I had to test this assumption as my warm-up to a standard Thanksgiving exercise, naming something I’m grateful for: freshwater and all the lovelies it supports, in the myriad chain of life descending from the availability of freshwater.

There are obvious lovelies – cottonwood, willow and sycamore trees along riparian corridors.

And the well-known extirpated and endangered freshwater species – steelhead trout, salmon…

Or the less obvious – cuties like the turbid-delta-dwelling vaquita porpoise, who are squeezed to less than 250 individuals in the Gulf of California, thanks initally to habitat loss and now more hazardously, gillnet/trawler entrapment.  Of course there’s skepticism regarding the loss-of-habitat angle, after all the Colorado River Delta only shrank when Mexico lost 90-95% of Colorado River flows, or as the Center for Biological Diversity says:  “the (vaquita) also suffers by living in a habitat that is today a shadow of its former self. The Colorado River, once a raging torrent that fed a lush floodplain at the delta, has been reduced to a trickle by dams and water diversions to neighboring southwestern states.” « Read the rest of this entry »

Some Headworks History

June 22, 2010 § 4 Comments

The Water Seekers by Remi Nadeau, Fourth Edition, 1997 Revised, Crest Publishers, Santa Barbara

I recently finished reading Remi Nadeau‘s The Water Seekers, a book which I highly recommend. It’s a very readable (almost folksy) history of Los Angeles and broader Southern California efforts in seeking water from faraway places. It  focuses mainly on the water grabs from Owens Valley and from the Colorado River, with excellent overview and lots of great detail – especially excellent anecdotes and stories. It’s fairly balanced – not excessively booster-ist about how much thirsty L.A. really needed all that water. 

There are probably more than a dozen L.A. Creek Freak posts I can drag out of The Water Seekers. I will start with a somewhat minor one – the story of the city of Los Angeles’ Headworks site, with some related water conservation and legal history thrown in for good measure. 

« Read the rest of this entry »

Water workshops for arid lands

March 19, 2010 § 1 Comment

The Arid Lands Institute at Woodbury University is offering free! workshops to bring out your inner DIY’er to help you make LA more livable in the long run.

All workshops are from 9-3, held on the Woodbury campus, 7500 Glenoaks Blvd, Burbank CA.  Email to RSVP and get more info.  Or, go to

Here’s the line-up:

Saturday March 27:  Green Roofs/GreenWalls with Linda Taalman of Taalman Koch Architects, Debbie Richomond of Tourmaine Richmond Architects and Stephanie Landregan, ASLA, of the UCLA Extension

Saturday, April 3: Water Smart Landscapes: Yard, Driveway, Sidewalk, Street with Fritz Haeg of Edible Estates, Holly Harper of North East Trees, and David Fletcher of Fletcher Studio.

Saturday, April 17: Rainwater Harvesting + Grey Water Systems with Leigh Jerrard of California Greywater Corps and Jenna Didier of Fountainhead Design.

The Dry Garden on a Rainy Day

December 11, 2009 § 5 Comments

Creekfreak gets a nod in Emily Green’s Dry Garden blog in the online edition of the LA Times today as we talk about how to bring the creekfreak ethos into your garden.  Follow the water – and the link – for more.

Bursting at the seams

September 16, 2009 § 2 Comments

More broken water pipes:

Two more water mains burst overnight, bringing more questions (LA Times).

Be sure to check out the comments. Steve Lopez also enters the fray:  Awash in trouble, it’s time to spout off at DWP(LA Times).

A Pipe’s Dream

September 9, 2009 § 1 Comment

You know, pipes just want to be springs.  They want to well up, create nice pools.  They’re tired of being all infrastructure, no beauty.  They want us humans to happen upon them, awe-struck by the gurgling bubbling water.  And for a brief millisecond we are.  We respond to the whiff of cool fresh water, and then register the pipe, the overflowing waste as it spreads and flows over lawns or infrastructure.  Or causes a big sinkhole.

And then we get mad.

The anger is inflamed by the sense of helplessness, watching that water gush on, knowing it is water wasted.  Wondering when someone will fix it.

Ravine in Elysian Park does pick up some rainfall runoff, but the broken pipe's steady flow contributed more to the creation of this stream channel.

Ravine in Elysian Park does pick up some rainfall runoff, but the broken pipe's steady flow keeps this "stream" wet.

I lived in Echo Park for nine years.  And for nine years, a broken pipe in Elysian Park has trickled water down a ravine.  Maybe it is a fire sprinkler line, but it’s the size of a big supply line.  I called the rangers once, and even mentioned it to park staff I was working on a project with.  I got no response from the former and a bit of a push-back from the latter.  It was still going on my last walk in Elysian Park, supporting a mini-forest of invasive non-native acacia and other non-native plants.  And you know how I feel about invasives.

But for some people, a broken pipe can be a lot more personal.  It can even mess with your job.  A friend of a friend (yes I’m keeping this anonymous, sorry if that’s sketchy) lives in the hills.  A water line broke behind his house.  His bathroom has now been flooded for four weeks.  Maybe a contractor broke it, maybe it’s a DWP line – either way it’s drinking water down this guy’s bathroom walls.  DWP refuses to deal with it, claiming it’s a broken sewer line.


I think anyone can smell the difference.  It happens the gentleman in question also works in the City Attorney’s office, and so fired off a letter to the DWP, reminding them of the City’s own water conservation initiatives, circumstances of the drought, and asked them to attend to this.  The reply from high up was (paraphrasing here) “you’re abusing your office by sending this letter.”

Hmmm. Well, that response – and way of dealing with the problem – takes it up a notch from what’s reported in this 1990 LA Times story,  “DWPs Response to Leak Leaves Residents Steaming”  And that’s really saying something.  That article indicates that DWP has so many water breaks to deal with that they often can’t respond to a relatively minor break for several days. They estimated that they lose 8% of their water to breaks and other losses(evaporation etc).

So the 1914-era infrastructure that just gave us a mighty sinkhole and also broke elsewhere the week before on Ventura Blvd  reflects that condition.  What’s more, Ventura Boulevard’s water lines keep breaking, sometimes in a much more exciting fashion.  In 1995 it broke and created a geyser.  With our precious imported water busting loose all over the city, maybe it’s time for an assessment of the infrastructure – and the maintenance teams.  Need I say it?  It’s not acceptable for imported water that could be keeping endangered species alive to be just gushing over our asphalt.

In the meantime, I suggest you head over to Elysian Park, hike on over to the leaking pipe and marvel at all the invasive plant life it’s supporting.

Taking water conservation seriously

April 9, 2009 § 1 Comment

Starts at home.  At the water meter.  LA City staff proposed a tiered water rating system, in which if a user exceeds a certain volume of water consumption, they go up to a higher rate for the additional water use – and City Council shot it down.  Unanimously.  This time (sounds likely they’ll be another round).

LA Observed thought this deserved attention, and so do I.  Maybe the Times will report on it tomorrow

LA Council rejects water pressure

While I am a supporter of tiered water rating, there’s also an equity issue – how do you fairly charge by household when some households have 1 person and others have 4 or more?  We can come up with nonintrusive but potentially unfair (as above) methods with flat water tiers (you consume over X gallons total, you go up to the next rate) or we move into some complicated and potentially intrusive methods, counting members of households etc and allocating a base volume from that (I just made that method up, btw, as an example of an intrusive but fair way to do that.  I don’t know what was actually proposed by the City).  

What do you think?  (and please don’t say desal!)

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.

Of lemons and goat canyons

January 4, 2009 § 4 Comments

p1040002Nothing like a leisurely breakfast with the Times in hand to uncover interesting news items related to our creeks and waters.  No, today’s edition hasn’t finally covered the bond freeze that is affecting the livelihoods of so many of my watery brethren.  But here’s a brief pastiche for your Sunday pleasure:

In a smuggling haven, a berm and barrier rise.  The long and the short of it is, yet another stream, Goat Canyon aka Smuggler’s Gulch, has fallen.  Not to developers or flood control authorities, but to the Department of Homeland Security.  If you recall, the Feds waived environmental review requirements for border wall construction, and so hills have been lopped off, a canyon filled, a wall raised.  The article didn’t mention how drainage from the canyon will be routed to the Tijuana River Estuary, on the US side of the border, and one of Southern California’s last remaining coastal wetland jewels that actually,still, functions like a fairly natural wetland, although it did note that the estuary is suffering the effects of too much sediment (from erosion – like when you lop off hills and create acres of bare dirt) washing into it.  I am particularly interesting in this question because, several months ago, the Times also ran a story about smugglers using old culverts – i.e. buried streams – to do their business.  Quite a few waterways flow from Mexico to the US, and we’ve put pipes in some of them, bury them, and then forget that they ever existed.  And are then surprised by humanity’s ingenuity to use them as a convenient, pre-made tunnel for illegal trafficking.  I’m sure it will be so different on Goat Canyon.

Moving on to the slimmed-down Op-Ed page, a hopeful story, one that speaks directly to my own hopes and beliefs, A view of the drought from Down Under, author Patrick Whyte describes how the urban residents of Queensland reduced their water consumption to 32 gallons of water per person a day.  True they were driven to it by drought, but it demonstrates how people in a populated semi-arid or arid environment can drastically reduce their consumption.  They didn’t need a desal plant because they acted sensibly.  In 2007, I was invited to speculate on what a “regenerative water future” for Los Angeles would look like at Cal Poly Pomona’s 50th Anniversary of their Landscape Architecture program.  My estimates, which I admit were not calculated using the highest or best data (pulled from the internet, with assumptions etc), demonstrated that – to truly walk the talk of sustainability – we actually could unleash ourselves of the Bay-Delta and Colorado River (and greatly reduce our use of the Owens River supply) by doing just what Mr. Whyte describes.  I had estimated that we would need to reduce to 41 gals/person/day.  To attain such a goal would mean radically reshaping how we utilize our landscape – a political thing – which is where we really hit conceptual barriers.  We fool ourselves into thinking the problems are technical, they are not – they are political.  Australians had the political will to do what I hope we will someday be capable of – making decisions that benefit our life-systems, and not just our lawns.  

But even with extreme shifts in consumption, human populations strain our freshwater resources.  So it was with no small ambivalence that I saw on Yahoo! News that the Vatican picked up another bully pulpit topic of mine and many others, the hormone-laden effluent that is affecting our fish, frogs, and probably us (if not now, eventually).  However, instead of focusing on the toxic suite of drugs, antibiotics, and chemicals that we flush down the toilet, they focus on just one:  birth control drugs.  Contraception.  


Yes, estrogen mimicking hormones in our waterways are a serious problem, and we need to clean that up. But unfettered population growth (I’m talking humans here) dwarfs all.  If you want to be part of the solution, find another form of birth control.  My earth-mama leanings led me to learn of some natural contraceptives – lactic acid formulaslemon-and-aloe, and neem(for women and men).  These things create an inhospitable environment for sperm.  But I kinda want more lab verification that these things work before I make a one-woman science experiment out of myself, testimonials aside.  A side benefit would be the liberation of one’s libido from corporate America.  And guys, there’s similar chatter on ways to safely reduce your sperm count without reducing your mojo.  Apparently the little buggers don’t like heat, and will wither with repeat visits to a hot tub, for instance.  So we need to start demanding research and verification of these and other techniques that allow us to live and to love, without polluting or overpopulating the planet. 

Yes, this is a creek blog.

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