Monday, January 31, 2011

Sounding the Call

The destruction of the Arcadia Woodlands by the County, and the impending removal of wooded areas in the Hahamongna Watershed Park has sparked a reaction from the residents and public because of the lack of public notice on these issues and the determination by the County not to consider alternatives to the destruction of critical natural habitat. As a result of these actions, there was a meeting on Saturday January 29 at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center of concerned residents and environmental organizations to thrash out a coalition and challenge the decimation of natural resources with outdated brute-force engineering models. Petrea reports on the meeting here.

The County has issued an invitation to the public for a task force meeting today, asking for RSVP's:

The LA County Flood Control District (LACFCD) is organizing a Task Force to develop sediment management approaches that support the continued operation of the region’s dams and debris basins while minimizing impact to the environment and surrounding communities. The first meeting of this Task Force will be Monday, January 31, 2011.

[LACFCD] would like to work together with local and regional stakeholders to develop additional methods of dealing with sediment in a sustainable manner – taking economic, social, and environmental impacts into account. This is intended to result in creation of a 20-year Long term Sediment Management Plan for the period 2012-2032.


Your participation in the Task Force is crucial to developing a comprehensive Sediment Management Strategic Plan that will address the region’s long-term sediment needs while considering local and environmental issues as well. The first meeting will be held on Monday, January 31, 2011, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works Headquarters located at 900 South Fremont Avenue, Alhambra, CA 91803. The meeting will be in Conference Rooms A and B. The Task Force will meet several more times as the plan is developed over the year.


Attendance at the County's meeting today will be the beginning of a task force with respect to the County's sediment plan, however these incidents are also instigating a coalition of organizations to come together in order to additionally reform the County's practices and return them to lawful process. The group feels that the County has violated their right to have a say on the preservation of natural habitat that is critcal for managing water flows and ecosystems that buffer urban areas and provide open space. This is the beginning of some very serious public action around the County's behavior in managing public resources.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Is Green about Civil Disobedience?

More action on the Hahamongna front right now. Last Tuesday night, there was a meeting of the Hahamongna Watershed Park Advisory Committee at La Casita on Arroyo Boulevard about the HWP Annex and Environmental Education Center Planning. The attending public was asked to participate in a Vision and Mission statement for the Annex project, facilitated by Cyndee Whitney, City of Pasadena Dept. of Human Resources. A bit curious, since the facility has already been the subject of a long debate on its size and purpose, as a replacement for the existing structure.

All public input since 2008, including the Visioning exercise last Tuesday night, has emphasized restoring the natural character of the site and incorporating natural materials into a minimal building footprint in the reuse scenario that has become somewhat of a compromise. On this round, it appears that the HWPAC is searching for metaphors to put into writing a desire for a structure that goes beyond the usual parks facility barn typology and potentially could be a demonstration facility that addresses the watershed and riparian habitat realities of managing human presence in a dynamic natural space. It could demonstrate, by its design, how watershed management starts with a structure that flows with the watershed contours, opens to the sun and seeks views of the forest and ridgelines to the north from an earth berm roof, for example. The desire is there to instill a closeness to natural environments and show by example what this means for sustainable process to produce a unique place for education and appreciation of Pasadena's largest natural asset, the Arroyo Seco.

The issue of sediment removal behind Devil's Gate dam and its use to infill Hahamongna is still ongoing. The County is currently considering ways to remove sediment from the dam;
the presentation made by the County to the HWPAC last November is here. The plan is to remove about 15 acres of willow trees in order to clear sediment around Devil’s Gate Dam in September. A report on this part of the meeting is from Petrea.

There's also a meeting this Saturday at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center for the growing pushback on the silt and infill issues at the Arcadia Woodlands site that disastrously resulted in destruction of natural riparian habitat near the Santa Anita Dam, to be used as infill for silt. The Santa Anita Dam Riser Modification and Reservoir Sediment Removal Project was based upon an emergency presumably created by the Station Fire of 2009. Activists are hoping to form a committee that will have timely input into County sediment projects in the future, due to the lack of notice in the Arcadia situation.

This Saturday's meeting is a serious development in local environmental circles, and the hope is that it will force responsible watershed management at the regional level in the future through public pressure and activist support for sustainable practices in these areas adjacent to natural ecological systems. The Arcadia Woodlands and Hahamongna Watershed issues are flashpoints that illuminate the need to temper regional human encroachment and live within the means of the local watersheds and ecosystems.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

There Oughtta be a Law


And there is. Cities and counties all over the United States are beginning to require surface water management and the use of effective subsoil groundwater dispersion in order to return water to the subsoil to keep trees healthy and to replenish local aquifers, the supply for wellwater. The means and methods of doing this vary, depending upon the soil type and the substructure of the geography beneath the surface. A growing freshwater shortage due partly to wasteful practices established in the last century, as well as groundwater pollution, has not been able to keep up with urban and agricultural demand for water. This is true throughout the global community, where a shortage of freshwater is occurring worldwide.

It basically amounts to UNpaving in urban areas, and integrating the watersheds into a more natural gradient that functions as a system of drainage and absorption. This means that minor rivers and creeks are as critical to the function of the ecosystem as the big, wild rivers are (the few that are left, at any rate). The entire watershed acts as a system, and paving it over and confining it to concrete channels destroys the ability of the watershed to support the demands of human habitation as well as the normal requirements for wildlife and riparian habitats.

Using this as a basic approach to the repair of watersheds and natural systems in urban and rural areas, it's possible to include restoration of these land features as part of urban and rural re-building and repair of systems as they age. In conjunction with the preservation of wild lands and natural habitat, it's possible to co-exist within the natural range of ecosystems and their ability to provide resources by completing the water cycle.

Methods now being required by local jurisdictions include new codes for water management onsite, along with many products and systems being produced to meet the demands of these codes. The City of Los Angeles, for example, has introduced new regulations for onsite water management, and the County of Los Angeles has required "Best Management Practices" now for several years, all geared towards conserving onsite water before it becomes polluted and full of trash.

Another method that should become required for all new construction is that all paving should be permeable concrete, decomposed granite or gravel, so that large urban areas become a "sponge" for normal rain runoff. The extreme events that happen every few years are already handled by an overdesigned storm drain system that manages to transport pollution and trash to the beaches and shoreline on a regular basis. This would make an excellent State mandate that doesn't increase construction costs and relieves the water impact on the storm drain system because it's absorbed into local subsurface structures.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Walk Softly

An understanding of the impact of human society on our planet is becoming more and more critical as our demands grow on the earth's resources. The footprint of our resource demands in urban areas is currently being measured and defined in many countries. When it comes to more natural and third world areas that have not yet been developed and are turning into tourist destinations as a result, it's important to educate people about their impact as well as provide an appreciation for these natural and social systems, known as geotourism. This is a new term for what used to be known as "adventure travel" and ecotourism; it represents a step further into a true sustainable system for human habitation.For example, the Nature Conservancy adopts the ecotourism definition articulated by the World Conservation Union (IUCN):

"Environmentally responsible travel to natural areas, in order to enjoy and appreciate nature (and accompanying cultural features, both past and present) that promote conservation, have a low visitor impact and provide for beneficially active socio-economic involvement of local peoples."

Most tourism in natural areas today is not ecotourism and is not therefore, sustainable. Ecotourism can be distinguished from nature tourism by its emphasis on conservation, education, traveler responsibility and active community participation. Specifically, ecotourism possesses the following characteristics:

* Conscientious, low-impact visitor behavior
* Sensitivity towards, and appreciation of, local cultures and biodiversity
* Support for local conservation efforts
* Sustainable benefits to local communities
* Local participation in decision-making
* Educational components for both the traveler and local communities

However, geotourism goes beyond ecotourism in that it sustains or enhances the geographic character of a place - its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well being of its residents. It embraces local social structure as well as ecology and appropriate use of resources.

A current local Geotourism Project seeks to celebrate the Sierra Nevada as a world-class destination, while contributing to the economic health of the region by promoting sustainable tourism. History buffs and adventurers, backpackers and foodies, birders and sightseers can discover unique destinations based on recommendations from those who know best - residents of the Sierra Nevada. This week, the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, in partnership with the National Geographic Society and the Sierra Business Council, kicks off its nomination process for its Geotourism Mapquide of the Southern Sierra Nevada, which is here.

The Project is approaching the Sierra Nevada in four phases. Two phases have been completed:Yosemite Gateway and the Tahoe Emigrant Corridor.During the third phase, Southern Sierra nominations, which includes the Sierra Nevada portion of Madera (excluding Yosemite and its gateway area), Fresno, Tulare, and Kern Counties, are being promoted during January through April, 2011. The third phase is being kicked off during the week of January 16th, with one of the launch events occurring in Kernville on January 20th.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Final Conclusion?

An excellent summary article about the issues surrounding water use and supply in California basically comes down to the understanding that there's currently not enough water to supply farmers, cities and environmental preservation needs in this state as of right now. Written by Matt Jenkins, a High Country News contributing editor based in the Bay Area who has been covering Western water politics for nearly a decade, it's a concise description of the battle that has been playing out into the current crisis.

This way of viewing the necessity of water use in a sustainable fashion is clearly illustrated in the EarthTrends analysis of the problem which uses mapping to show how the actual need for water to remain in the natural environment constrains the amount of water that can be demanded by agriculture and urban areas. A global overview of the bleak picture of excessive water demands is shown, and identifies the key water-stress indicators in watersheds across the globe. We're clearly consuming water far beyond the ecosystem's ability to replenish it, and at the same time the demands keep increasing in the areas with the highest stress, including California and the western United States.

It's critical for the State to take a position on science-based investigation and base its ultimate water policy on realistic water consumption in the face of climate change. Which means, as the High Country article lays out, a reduction in demand because the ecological systems are experiencing failure. Once they go, there's nothing left. So actually the decision is easy, demand will be reduced because to do otherwise will mean extinction of food resources and an implosion of industry. Bay Delta collapse (which is very close) would be the end of California regardless of the politics involved. The question is simply how to reduce demand and recycle water so that the ecosystem survives.

The State needs to face this problem directly and unfortunately with rather draconian strategies, since the overreach has gone so far."Limits to Growth" is a reality now.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Let's Play a Game

Heads up from LA Stormwater and FOLAR, a link to the ABC public outreach effort with respect to Australia's rivers and watersheds. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has put up an online game where you're in charge of an area of watershed called a catchment. You get to decide what activities you undertake - whether to plant crops, log forests, build factories or set up national parks. The aim is to avoid environmental problems and provide food and wealth for the population:

Managing Australia's waterways is a huge challenge with climate change, increased demand for water and environmental problems putting rivers under stress. Catchment Detox gives an idea of just how difficult it is to manage a river catchment. This game lets you see how your decisions play out over 100 games, and see if you can successfully detox an overburdened ecological system. Have you managed to create a sustainable cachement? Or does yours feed the economy at the expense of the environment, or the environment at the expense of the economy?

This is an intriguing game, in the spirit of Sim City, but with a goal of ecological balance rather than development as in the city-building simulation game. The thrust of Sim City is obvious, and the underlying assumptions are those that have driven the ever-expanding city grids in old-style development economics that see only profit in consuming land and resources:

Step #20: Zone more high density residential. Un-pause and watch it develop.

At this point you should see a pattern emerge. Keep going back and forth between your residential and industrial cities, zoning new areas as demand warrants, and raising the funding on your power plants as needed to fill demand.


In time, put in police, schools, hospitals, and other essential buildings, but not until absolutely necessary. It is possible to run a residential city for a very long time with no services other than fire and basic education. Your industrial city will require heavy fire coverage.

Your cities should be making money hand over fist at this point.


Clearly this digital scenario game has never incorporated natural capital or even energy and water conservation, and it's interesting to see these assumptions so baldly laid out. One can only hope that other scenario-building games will be developed that teach people how the process of sustainability in a local region is dependent upon the recognition that resources must be constantly renewed and revitalized in order to be able sustain life. Ultimately, ecological destruction means resource depletion and pollution, and of course this kills the system that provides fertile soil, clean air, and water. These consequences haven't been worked into a game yet, not even in the climate modeling software that could simulate the carbon feedback system that drives climate change.

At this moment in time, some climate models are moving forward that account for more factors in climate change predictions. Researchers from Environment Canada have developed one of the more recent ones, which still needs validation from observations and measurements.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Santa Anita Wash Oak Grove - Last Call



(Update 1/13/11 - Another LA Times article documents the destruction of the Arcadia Woodlands)

(Update 1/12/11 - the Creek Freak blog has the details on the County Supervisors' stonewall and their intent to proceed with the demolition of the oak woodlands this morning. The LA Times article covers the tree-sitters that entered the area as of late this morning as the demolition work proceeds.)

On Wednesday, January 12, 2011, this grove of about 250 native oaks and sycamore trees in Arcadia, California is scheduled to be destroyed by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, in order to install a dumping site for mud, dirt, and debris that has accumulated behind flood control dams. This grove is the last surviving example of untouched flatland woodlands in the alluvial plains exiting the San Gabriel Mountains. In addition to the native trees, the area is home to wildlife, birds, insects, and migrating water fowl. It produces clean oxygen into the air. Other cost-effective options exist to dispose of the dirt and debris. The grove is located in northeast Arcadia, CA:

Thomas Bros. map:
Page 567, D-E, 1-2

Google Earth:
Lat: 34° 9'44.98"N
Long: 118° 1'25.50"W

You can help by contacting the Los Angeles County Board Supervisors at (213) 974-1411 and by writing to:

GLORIA MOLINA
molina@bos.lacounty.gov

MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS
markridley-thomas@bos.lacounty.gov

ZEV YAROSLAVSKY
zev@bos.lacounty.gov

DON KNABE
rvelasquez@lacbos.org

MICHAEL D. ANTONOVICH
fifthdistrict@lacbos.org

TODAY 1/11/11: Sign the petition!

A press release from ArcadiaWoodlands.org is out today: “Halt those bulldozers and switch off those chain saws” will be the message delivered by a wide-spread coalition of Arcadia neighbors and environmentalists massing in front of the Board of Supervisor’s at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 11th at 500 West Temple in Los Angeles. They are there to protest the Los Angeles County Public Works (LACPW) proposal to turn a pristine 13-acre oak woodland in Arcadia into a dump for mud and debris removed from nearby local dams.

Although County Public Works has refused several offers to meet with leaders of the Arcadia Woodland preservation movement and has evaded repeated requests for a “date certain” on when their report would be brought before the Board of Supervisors (BOS), organizers are “covering their bases” by appearing on Tuesday, January 11th. “This is a pristine natural woodland that is home to wildlife and some180 old-growth oaks and 70 beautiful sycamores.” says Cameron Stone of ArcadiaWoodlands.org. “We are here to share our love for this place with the Board of Supervisors and show them how they can continue with the important task of sediment removal as outlined in the EIR without destroying the woodland. The Arcadia Woodland is a community treasure that must be protected and respected.”

Monday, January 10, 2011

Plan Ahead

The kind of ecological planning and design that needs to take place in our region and watershed areas is a study methodology developed by Ian McHarg that maps natural systems and features of all kinds, and then identifies areas that can be safely built out to work with these systems. This has evolved into an approach called permaculture. Permaculture principles focus on thoughtful designs for small-scale intensive systems which are labor efficient and which use biological resources instead of fossil fuels. It speaks to the local wilderness and riparian areas that still remain but are threatened with destruction.

The intent of this practice is the integration of natural forces with beneficial structures where they're appropriate, which is the antithesis of exponential city grid expansion into areas that need to provide critical functions for the local ecosystem and its watershed. The way this works is with a mapping system for a region as is shown above in the diagrams, detailing the characteristics of the land, water, geological structure, soil, sun and wind exposures.

Unfortunately, we have already created vast engineered systems that fight the very things that we need to preserve and enhance, as was noted by the LA Times a few weeks ago during our heavy winter rains: in a region that imports water, much goes to waste:

Southern California laid miles of pipe and tunneled through mountains to import water. But it also built a storm drain system to quickly get rid of rainfall. The contradiction played out again this week.

This is an observation that the massive engineering projects put into place to bring surface water to supply the southland did not take into account the fact that the aquifers that supply much of our water need replenishment with groundwater throughout the region. It was pure plumbing from the surface water supply to the cities that had started to grow in the southland, while at the same time the rainwater, rivers and sediment are trapped in large dam systems with the excess pushed out to sea. This system only accounts for about half of the water cycle, and thus is destined to fail in its purpose, particularly as the water pumped in from hundreds of miles away stimulates more building growth and paving that prevents the groundwater from reaching these critical aquifers. It's a nasty urban ponzi scheme that must be reversed and restructured upon different principles and a different vision of what we're actually dealing with. As Bucky Fuller said, design and planning professionals are in the best place to 'lead' the effort to see the earth as single system and learn to treat it like a 'library of ideas' rather than a 'warehouse of materials'.

There's a dynamic balance that must be struck with nature and its forces. Permaculture is still evolving as an approach, but there's plenty of expertise and information to restructure these old engineered systems such that they complete the circle and restore natural processes. An article from the Sacramento Bee is very clear about the necessary public policies that are needed to address the aquifer issues. It's a balance of better cities and economies, and far, far more protection of natural wetlands, habitats and foothill regions. This kind of vision has to drive our designs for cohabitation with ecology, otherwise known as "Design with Nature".

Friday, January 7, 2011

Arcadia Woodland Oaks - A Death Row Reprieve?

I got on the phone to Supervisor Antonovich today to urge his office that the Santa Anita Dam Sediment Placement Project be placed on the Supplemental Agenda for the Board of Supervisors meeting this Tuesday 1/11/2011. The project has not received the proper public review or process for its implementation. It's a rush to use an "emergency" to push projects forward and eviscerate the EIR process, just as in the Hahamongna Watershed "emergency" during the December rains. As I posted on the Tattler on Dec. 5:

Another great plan from Public Works. The Arroyo Seco Foundation is making a similar complaint with the County's plan to clean out Hahamongna reservoir behind Devil's Gate dam. The Station Fire puts a great sense of urgency on cleaning out these reservoirs to make room for expected incoming mud flows. Public Works thinks it can push these projects through by claiming emergencies and short-cutting the EIR process. THERE IS NO EMERGENCY.

My earlier article lays out the issue at the County level; there has been a lack of consistent maintenance, as well as a stubborn refusal to listen to local communities and organizations that clearly state that the watersheds and rivers must be protected and enhanced, not bulldozed over and destroyed. That's the old Army Corps of Engineers mindset that put the entire Arroyo Seco and Los Angeles rivers into concrete channels that creates massive maintenance and truck hauling efforts to mitigate environmental damage and restock fish in areas that used to function in this way naturally - and for free!

This mindset is fostered by water suppliers and development forces that have no respect for the environment that gets destroyed, and no concern for the open space and common areas that cities and towns need to survive in any kind of sustainable way. It's all treated as plumbing that's blind to natural forces and removes critical watersheds from a functioning natural system. The price of all this is a massive bill for County maintenance of crumbling infrastructure that has to be constantly rebuilt to even be minimally functional. It's a long-term exercise in futility, in other words. The hubris of this approach is stunning.

How much more intelligent it would be to expand these native and riparian areas, move human habitation out of critical environmental areas, and work with the natural ebb and flow of nature and physics.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Again, Twelfth Night

It's Twelfth Night - the night of epiphany, of recognition and awakening. From the darkest days of the year we need to look towards the light, celebrated around the globe, regardless of creed, in different cultures down through the eons, a place of dark rebirth into the brilliant new days ahead. How can we globally connect to create a different way of collaborating that leads to new ways of behaving as a society, as governments, as businesses and as individuals? An epiphany of sorts is presented in a new book that follows up on a 2007 management book and offers a transformative approach to using open source to collectively approach solutions to sustainability, business and political issues. In her review of this book,"Macrowikinomics", Elaine Cohen states:

In what other ways can Macrowikinomics move us forward as a global society? Enter the chapter that deals with climate change, and the way mass collaboration can save the planet. Tapscott and Williams talk about the "erroneous assumption underlying conventional wisdom… that politicians and other powerful interests can manage climate change with new regulations issued from a patchwork of national capitals around the world," urging us to push for an approach that requires less central control and more self-organized mass collaboration.

Dynamic innovation, supported by good research and global collaboration, are presented as a means of addressing the global financial and environmental turmoil we're facing now, a turmoil brought on by our collective historic behavior. In order to implement a rapid reversal, or transformation of our current systems, there needs to be a dynamic, interconnected collaboration and development of solutions that address the multivalent systemic problems erupting across the globe. It's a chance to move away from destructive processes and create regenerative solutions to the myriad issues that human society is creating.

It's new thinking for a needed new world.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Science of It

The recent Bay Delta draft plan proposal has been roundly criticized by the environmental organizations and the fishing industry as a disastrous violation of the key agreement in State policy that water users should cut their dependence on the Bay-Delta and secure alternative water supply sources. The chart above, from NRDC sources, shows the increasing water withdrawals over the years that is creating the crisis in the water situation for California.

The NRDC took the position a year ago that the "urban water story" that this plan is based upon was not accurately portrayed in a 60 minutes episode in 2009, it's about the ecological collapse brought about by overdrawing water from the Bay Delta for agricultural uses. The construction industry collapse has been responsible for unemployment in the San Joaquin valley, not agricultural losses from drought.

A recent open letter from the fishing industry recommends that this draft plan, advocated by Schwartzenegger, be abolished so that the ecosystems and fisheries can recover from the drastic overdrafting of the water in the Bay Delta ecosystem, threatening collapse of levees and intrusion of salinated water. Its first of seven recommendations is as follows:

Issue an executive order mandating all state agencies to comply immediately with the provisions of the federal biological opinions protecting Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt and other species. To comply with these decisions, the state and federal governments must reduce water exports, better manage water releases from dams, remove dams and provide fish passage for fish above dams.

The conservation groups are appealing to the incoming Brown administration to improve this plan with a rigorous scientific basis for the Bay Delta plan, not a political one driven by agricultural interests and water agencies seeking to increase income at the expense of these natural systems that provide the basis of most of California's wealth of resources. As of today, that element will begin to play out.

Update: On the Governor's new official website up today, Issue No. 7 is "Water for the 21st Century":

Ensuring safe and sufficient water supplies for the 21st century requires significant investments in our water infrastructure and natural ecosystems. After five decades of divisive wrangling, the time has arrived for the governor to provide real leadership and solve our longstanding water problems. The goal must be to maintain and enhance water supplies for all Californians and take action to restore the Bay-Delta and meet California's true water needs.

Sounds like he's on board.