Month: March 2013

Quick Mends: City Council approves Pilot Recreational Zone Program

PADDLE UP: The L.A. Conservation Corps guides a group through still waters and overhanging willows. (Jim Burns)
PADDLE UP: The L.A. Conservation Corps guides a group through still waters and overhanging willows. (Jim Burns)

The Los Angeles City Council voted yesterday to approve the first recreational zone on the Los Angeles River.

The motion passed in an amended form over the objections raised in public meetings about adequate neighborhood parking and the rights of dog owners to walk their pets along the river’s bank in the defined area. Beginning Memorial Day through Labor Day, riverside residents, as well as visiting kayakers and others, will judge how successful, or lacking, the program is.

It was a clear victory for Councilmember Ed Reyes’s office, which looked to expand the recreational use of the river after the success of last summer’s Paddle the L.A. River program farther north in the San Fernando Valley. Expect signage, provided in collaboration with KCET, a shuttle to get kayakers from parking near Confluence Park to the put in, and, finally, a single entity, the Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority, to enforce the rules, instead of L.A.P.D. Also, expect the MRCA to be looking for a valid freshwater fishing license if you’ve got a rod in the water.

Although generally supportive of the zone, the Department of Fish and Game remains cautious going forward.

“In general, yes, we would support the recreational zone, but the devil is in the details, senior biologist Dwayne Maxwell said via email. “The development of a recreational zone has the potential to improve some of the habitat characteristics of this reach of the Los Angeles River.  We are having some difficulty, however, seeing this water as a plantable trout water.  The number of exotic fish species and the potential high bank and water-oriented uses of the river probably would not make it a high priority sport fishing water.”

The amendments included:

— Clarify that the pilot recreational zone program consists of the ElysianValley area south of Fletcher Drive, from Rattlesnake Park to Egret Park;

— Recognize that the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA),the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers, the Los Angeles County and the City have mutually agreed to conditions that satisfy all concerns for the operation of the pilot recreational zone program;

— Grant the MRCA authority to manage the designated recreational zone area and utilize the MRCA Park Ordinance to regulate park and public trust doctrine activities.

Now we’ll see how this all plays out.

See you on the river, Jim Burns



Biologist discusses Army Corps plans for the L.A. River

U.S. Army Corps biologist Erin Jones points to one of the soft-bottom areas of the Los Angeles River near North Atwater Park. (Jim Burns)
U.S. Army Corps biologist Erin Jones points to one of the soft-bottom areas of the Los Angeles River near North Atwater Park. (Jim Burns)

The Los Angeles City Council votes on the Pilot Recreational Zone Program tomorrow. If the zone is approved, the city will build upon the successful Paddle the River program, allowing kayaks to launch south of Fletcher Drive and run about two and a half miles downsteam from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Sorry, that doesn’t include float tubes for fisherman.

One public comment meeting last month quickly turned contentious as dog owners argued against the prohibition of walking their pets along the river, which is one stipulation of the plan. Owners could still walk their dogs on the bike path.

Meanwhile, remember that the next important item for the river will be a public comment period on four proposed plans for ARBOR (Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization). Here are comments from Erin Jones, a biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She studied ecology and environmental science, receiving an MS from UC-Santa Barbara.  After graduate school, she continued with  plant and wildlife studies in the field, and has now moved into national environmental policy.

FF:  So what is the Corps looking at?

EJ:  Basically, the four different options for construction, the Corps refers to them as alternatives, all involve restoration along the river and they are basically of varying scales, and varying costs as well.

We choose a range of options to evaluate in order to see what the impacts are, what the costs are, what the benefits are, at the varying scales. Our smallest alternative may involve a couple of different areas and our biggest alternative involves our whole actions and study area.

FF: Where is that?

EJ: Our largest-scale alternative  would have those things, but also add on the confluence of Arroyo Seco, the confluence of Verdugo Wash, the Piggyback Yard, which is in downtown, bigger areas like that, which are more involved in terms of construction.

FF: What does your field work entail?

EJ:  What I do in terms of these types of feasibility studies, where we are trying to develop different plans, is to choose one of those plans to try to implement. My involvement is helping to develop these different options and determine what’s going to be the best restoration action,  and in what places. I also look at what kind of plants and wildlife were on the river historically and what can we do to restore that same type of habitat.

At this point and time, we’ve come up with just very general plant palettes, we call it, a list of plants that we’d want to see established in those areas. Historically on the river and on the floodplain, there was a lot of fresh water marsh, and there was a lot of cottonwood-willow riparian forest.

FF: How do you gauge historic conditions?

EJ:  For this project, the Corps mission for ecosystem restoration is to restore as much as we can to historic conditions, before human involvement, which is difficult and we can’t always do that, but we want to do the very best we can. And so part of that means looking at the history, looking at what was there, part of our research involved acquiring some historic maps from the Huntington Library. They had historic linen maps from 1896 and those maps were very detailed, and they showed the course of the river, at least that snapshot in time, where it meandered, and what some of the habitats were along the river, so we were able to use that, along with other resources, you know different publications, to get a feel for what was here before.

Even at that time the evidence of human settlement was there with crops adjacent the river,  and even a little bit of settlement in the downtown area. So that’s where it’s difficult to know what was around, pre-settlement, because finding those records is difficult. But I think we generally have a pretty good idea from the research that we’ve done, so we’ve been trying to use species,  for instance, that we know were here historically.

FF: Carp were not here, so would you get rid of them as an invasive species?

EJ: You know at this point in time, I don’t think we’ve talked about active removal of non-native fish. You know when we implement the project that’s something we can look at. I know that construction projects on the Santa Ana River, which I’m familiar with because I work out of Prado Dam, whenever they have diversions for their projects, they pull all the non-native fish out and just leave them on the banks for the raccoons to come and get. At some point, they had to have a bucket loader come, there were so many invasive fish in there, and take them away. You know that’s something that we could definitely look at for this project, the removal of non-native fish during our active construction. For restoring native fish, you need to remove the non-natives.

FF: There are no trout, much less steelhead, currently in the river.

EJ: It’s definitely challenging, especially because the native fish need the cooler temperatures and they need the shade, they need downed wood to create refuge, you know those things aren’t necessarily present in this system. As I said, we can do our best to restore those features in our project. And even stock with native fish to try and restore the populations, but there’s only so much we can do. But I know that some of the features of our project involve trying to mimic native fish habitat with the goal  of trying to restore for the natives. Things like riffle pool complexes, and refugia, things like that. Considering the numbers of non-native fish that are in the river now, it’s a challenge, for sure.

FF: So, would the concrete come out?

EJ:  Part of the challenge with the project is maintaining flood capacity. This project was built in the early 20th century as a flood control project. And, unfortunately, all of the natural resources were eliminated with that project, so now putting it back we still have to consider safety of people and damage to infrastructure, so removing the concrete fully, we did look at that, and it just wasn’t possible for the cost and for maintaining that capacity, so places like Taylor Yard, we have a big space next to the river, those are the kinds of places where some of our plans look at taking out that concrete bank and just widening the river at that point and really restoring a lot of habitat in those areas. Piggyback Yard is another area in some of our plans where that might be possible.

The Glendale Narrows, wherever these is a soft bottom, that will be left intact.  Enhanced, of course, removing arundo, non-natives, that’s a part of the entire program, to remove non-natives, but the Glendale Narrows area is going to be maintained, the soft bottom areas will be maintained.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Spring spawn churns up L.A. River

(This post originally ran March, 2011)

“Mad as a March hare,” that’s how the old saying goes.

College basketball fanatics anticipate  March Madness; Catholics, the beginning of Lent and, for everyone,  the last big-gulp gasp of Mardi Gras: “Laissez les bons temps rouler.”

Crafty fly tyers may litter their vises with March Browns to celebrate the beginning of spring.

Smaller males surround a larger female carp on their way up the Los Angeles River. (Derek Bourassa).
Smaller males surround a larger female carp on their way up the Los Angeles River. (Derek Bourassa).

And for those of us plying urban waters, it’s time for the semi-annual parade of the carp.

“I think they end up in Balboa Lake. I’ve spotted some huge fish in there,” guide David Wratchford told me yesterday at the Fisherman’s Spot. That would be miles, and miles, and miles upstream from where they begin the migration, probably in the Glendale Narrows.

Earlier in the week, he’d left me a voicemail — with some urgency — that the spawn was on.

My question: why now?

Turning to the bible of carp fishing, “Carp on the Fly” by Barry Reynolds and friends, I found the following water chart:

Water Temperature                                               Remarks

39 degrees                                          Carp begin active feeding.

41 degrees                                           Carp begin pre-spawn move  to shallows.

61 degrees                                           Sustained temp lethal to carp eggs.

63 degrees                                           Probable lower limit for spawning.

66 degrees                                           Optimal temp for carp.

72 degrees                                           Metabolism increases rapidly.

75 degrees                                           Probable upper limit for spawning.

79 degrees                                           Sustained temps lethal to carp eggs.

90 degrees                                           Metabolism at a high rate.

97-106 degrees                                  Lethal temp limit for carp.

So, once Mother Nature’s spring water thermometer hits the correct temperature, the carp are off and running. And do they ever run, up into the shallows, and the concrete steps that dot the semi-natural surface of Glendale Narrows and beyond.

If the March hare’s madness springs from its wacky mating behaviors — including jumping into the air for no apparent reason — the same holds true for carp.

“I saw sea gulls attacking a whole group of them. The fish were almost completely out of the water. I don’t know. It looked like they were trying to pluck out their eyes,” said one old timer I met yesterday.

Another younger guy, dressed in surgeon’s scrubs, told me he thought he’d seen a rock on one of the concrete flats. That rock, of course, turned out to be a monster carp.

“Its back was completely dry,” he said, and added that he couldn’t resist picking it up, then setting it back down in the water. I met him and his two friends with poles in hand, hoping to find more spawning carp.

What does this mean for you? Get fishing before the weather turns. Take advantage of this fine spring weekend. Heck, you might even exchange your normal Glo-Bug for a Mad March Hare’s Ear.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Physicist Richard Muller explains global warming to Occidental College audience

Lighting struck physicist Richard Muller, converting him from skeptic to believer about the human causes of global warming. (Jim Burns)
Lighting struck physicist Richard Muller, converting him from skeptic to believer about the human causes of global warming. (Jim Burns)

Activist physicist Richard Muller spoke at Occidental College today, explaining to a mostly student audience exactly why he became a “converted skeptic” about  the human causes of global warming.  In 2011, Muller testified to the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee confirming an overall global warming trend, for which he later said: “Humans are almost entirely the cause.” But he also explained that his healthy initial skepticism came from reading untenable conclusions based on inadequate research.

His talk was both amusing and frightening. He repeatedly took former Vice President Al Gore to task, and reminded the audience of the little-known fact that a British judge would allow Gore to distribute his Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” free to school children only if he included a list of nine errors, including that Greenland would melt, causing a massive ocean rise. Gore declined. He also reprimanded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for publishing in its fourth assessment report that the Himalayas would melt by 2030, which was not based on any science.

Muller blamed research “cherry picking,” as well as the politicizing of research contents as the culprits, and reminded the students to “remain objective.” He cited media reports as widely off the mark when it comes to global warming, saying that his own data show that there are no more hurricanes or tornadoes today than there were at the beginning of the century.

“This is something you all need to master,” he said.” How do you go about looking at a subject in a purely objective way? I would say that the thing that characterizes our civilization more than anything else was the discovery of objectivity. Remember that word and think about it.”

The professor of Physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Faculty Senior Scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory as well as the founder of Berkeley Earth is also the best-selling author of  “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines” (2012).

On the frightening side were graphs showing rapidly increasing carbon emissions from the developing world, notably China and India. Muller, who drives a Prius, said that it did no good in solving global warming because the average citizens in those countries can’t afford to buy one. Rather, Americans should embrace affordable examples. His dual saviors were solar energy and natural gas.

Muller endorsed controversial fracking — coaxing natural gas and oil out of rocks through horizontal drilling — as the way to get China off carbon-producing coal and into cleaner natural gas. As U.S. carbon emissions slow, he said, this was the most efficient way to stop the heating up of the planet.

See you on the river, Jim Burns