Dry weather diversions – memories up a sh*t’s creek

December 29, 2021 § 3 Comments

Yesterday’s post hurt my brain to write, and it hurts my brain a little to re-read. OK, it hurts my brain a lot. So I suspect it’s not fun for anyone else either. I wish it could be more straightforward.

And then I woke up this morning realizing I wasn’t done with the subject yet. Ugh.

So if this issue of buried streams in the crossfire of clean water regulations and local governments liable for compliance is pertinent to you, bear with me. If you live in a park poor area with buried streams (Angelenos, that’s basically you), it’s pertinent.

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A buried creek’s dilemma: to be daylighted or drained?

December 28, 2021 § 3 Comments

[Opening digression: I was just texted an image predicting rainfall for LA for the next few days – it looks like you could get hammered (rainfall-wise – what you do with alcohol I have no predictions for), so this post may seem ironic, misplaced, bad timing? You’ve got a trough heading your way and if it doesn’t keep moving…well let’s just hope that it does. The focus of today’s post is dry-weather flows…]

To those of us who recognize stormdrains (or, some of them) as body-snatched creeks, and who long for a water management approach that would incorporate daylighting or naturalization of concreted waterways and nature-based treatment that doubles as streetside landscaping, floodable parks, greenways, etc., well, prepare to be disappointed. Or enraged? Whichever, it’s a familiar feeling. At least we’re not alone on this.

The City of LA recently issued an IS/MND (Initial Study/Mitigated Negative Declaration) and awarded a contract to start work on diverting low flows from certain stormdrains. The low flows – aka urban slobber in some circles – would be pumped from the storm drains into the sewer system, so that they can be treated for pollutants. From there, like the rest of the region’s wastewater, it either gets discharged into flood control channels rivers, is infiltrated to groundwater, or reused (such as purple pipe irrigation). So you can see how it closes some loops and ticks some sustainability boxes.

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Fancy dancing at the Supreme Court

October 31, 2012 § 1 Comment

Once the election buzz has passed, angelenos can turn their attention to the Supreme Court for some creekfreaky argumentation.  Commenters – can you offer up interpretations of what this decision will mean for clean water in LA if the County has its way?  (feel free to also weigh in on how you feel about the County using its scarce resources for fighting interpretations of the clean water act when it’s under compliance deadlines.  All the way up to the Supreme Court.)

Going bonkers over the brea in Ballona

December 4, 2011 § 18 Comments

$2 million worth of funny. Click to enlarge. Map: Jessica Hall. Base Image, GoogleEarth.

Oh boy.  It’s amusement vs. aggravation here at LA Creek Freak, as I struggle to find adequate words to express how I feel about this much-forwarded LA Times piece about an oily sheen on Ballona Creek. « Read the rest of this entry »

Downloadable “creekwatch” application

November 22, 2010 § 5 Comments

Doing the rounds recently is this link to a free Creek Watch application for iPhones and iPods, developed by IBM. It allows users to upload a photo and data to a common map, recording data about flow, trash, or other observations. Developed for the State Water Control Board, most of the posted observations seem to be in the Bay Area. Let’s get some LA sites on the map!

Thanks to the various folks who forwarded this link to me, including Boyd Waters and Karina Johnston.

Landscapes at work in Downey

July 20, 2010 § 5 Comments

I went on a parking lot tour today.  Gerry Greene, Water Resources Control Specialist for the city, had offered a tour to me and some folks from the Watershed Council. Having heard about Downey’s progress in the stormwater front from Shelley Luce of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, I was interested in seeing parking lots working to retain and infiltrate stormflows.

Over 2 1/2 hours, we went to small retail developments, shopping centers, gas stations,  a dentist’s office, fast food chains, a golf course, a school, building materials and industrial facilities – and each one of these places had a system in place to capture and treat runoff from a (mostly) 3/4″ storm – the infamous “first flush” storm that carries the largest amount of bacteria and other yuck that deteriorates water quality downstream. « Read the rest of this entry »

When fire and water mixes…

September 7, 2009 § 3 Comments

From tThis home in Montrose was gutted by mud, rocks and water that came through the back of the house. 1934.  Los Angeles Public Library. Photo 29145.

"This home in Montrose was gutted by mud, rocks and water that came through the back of the house". 1934. Los Angeles Public Library. Photo 29145.

You get a big, messy debris flow glunking down from some very steep mountains, smothering everything in its path, including that house built well, right in its path.

This massive Station Fire, which has been written about so eloquently, cogently, and concisely in so many places, has County flood managers bracing for the onset of the rainy season (generally October-March). In other words, very soon.

And if you’re a creekfreak, you know what that means:  vegetation removal in the “channels,” and this year, big-time debris basin maintenance (where a lot of creeky habitat has taken up shop) as well.  Indeed, an AP story reports the process is underway:

“The basins are being examined to determine how much they may need to be cleaned out to create capacity, and channels are being examined to make sure they are free of obstruction such as overgrowth, Pestrella said.”

Every year, the County Flood Control District and the Army Corps of Engineers engages in a difficult ballet (it may feel more like hand-to-hand combat) with environmentalists over how much vegetation can be removed from rivers and streams soft-bottom channels.  The engineers’ arguments are that the channels were designed for storm capacity based on the assumption of no vegetation in the channels.  To allow trees etc to remain is to reduce the capacity of the channels – and that’s an enhanced flood risk.  Environmentalists look at the performance of past storms with vegetation and argue for maintaining the native vegetation (there’s a range of positions on the enviro side, but that’s generally the bottom line).  And the agencies responsible for issuing these permits usually comes up with a way to allow some clearance, while offsetting the loss of habitat with mitigation.

I said usually.  Mark Gold, Executive Director of Heal the Bay, reports in his Many Rivers to Cross post on Spouting Off that this time around the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the first line of defense for upholding federal water quality regulations, approved the County’s 401 Certification (that’s Clean Water Act lingo for water quality certification) by letting a year go by without administering a decision.  In whose universe do permits (even impactful ones) get automatically approved if they’ve not been reviewed within a given time period? I’m all for expediency,but approval-by-neglect is a policy begging for exploitation.

Just ask Mark.  He says:

What hurts is that the application did not commit the county to provide adequate protection for existing aquatic life beneficial uses, nor did it require any meaningful further mitigation requirements for lost riparian habitat as a result of channel maintenance.

He also notes that there were 100 segments of waterway covered under this permit.  So to protect ourselves from the fire-denuded mountains, our homely rivers/channels that have soft bottoms and riparian habitat will also likely be denuded.  And if this is so, it is habitat that loses, once again.

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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