Month: August 2013

River advocates welcome Army Corps first female commander

Col. Kim Colloton emphasizes a point yesterday at the Los Angeles River Center. She is the first female commander to occupy the U.S. Army Corps top job in L.A. (Jim Burns)
Col. Kim Colloton emphasizes a point yesterday at the Los Angeles River Center. She is the first female commander to occupy the U.S. Army Corps top job in L.A. (Jim Burns)

In an unprecedented first, river advocates threw a party to  welcome the first U.S. Army Corps female district commander to Los Angeles.  Spanish guitars played as guests from a multi-pronged coalition of community groups, private enterprise and government officials sipped sangria  to welcome Col. Kim Colloton at the Los Angeles River Center plaza.

The river center is a stronghold of advocacy groups, which include Friends of the Los Angeles River and the Arroyo Seco Foundation.  The audience and speakers included two Los Angeles city councilmembers, the mayor of Burbank, and representatives of local cities, the  state and the federal government.

“This has never been done before,” said Lewis MacAdams, founder of FOLAR, and, until recently, a longtime self-proclaimed “enemy” of the Corps. But MacAdams, along with others, increasingly see the Corps as part of the solution, not the problem.

“It’s going to get more challenging as the interest gets wider, as more and more people view the river as an asset  toward open space, and renewal, and improvement of the city,” Alejandro Ortiz, FOLAR chairman said. “You would wonder if the Corps of Engineers is the ideal partner. At first thought, you might think it’s not, but as it turns out the Army Corps of Engineers is the guiding light toward salvation. And salvation has a name. It’s Option 20.”

At stake is how much money the federal government is willing to put into implementing an ecosystem restoration that could possibly remake the Los Angeles River into a vital part of the city. Last week, the Los Angeles City Council made it officially known that it wanted to see the biggest package possible, that’s $1 billion (Alternative 20), which would be spent on the river from Glendale Narrows to downtown, an 11-mile area. There are three other “best buy” alternatives that will be spelled soon-to-be-released report, each with a lesser price tag.

“Just from my short month here in my new job, and by this synergy that I have felt and seen tonight, I can feel that we are united in a vision to protect, restore and maximize this river’s benefits for future generations,” Col. Colloton said to the crowd of around 200.

The crowd found out that the long-awaited ARBOR study, which names four possible paths to ecosystem restoration, will be available for public comment on Sept. 13. There will be an email box to make it easy for people to voice their opinions on the Corps’ website. How much money is spent must be voted on and approved by Congress.

See you on the river, Jim Burns


Councilmembers make full-court press for billion-dollar river restoration

Pushing for the billion-dollar restoration option, from left, are councilmembers Cedillo, LaBonge and O'Farrell. in the center, back, is California State Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D., 51st District) (Jim Burns)
Pushing for the billion-dollar restoration option, from left, are councilmembers Cedillo, LaBonge and O’Farrell. in the center, back, is California State Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez (D., 51st District) (Jim Burns)

In preparation for what could be remembered as an historic city council vote, three councilmembers made their case poolside for the most expensive restoration of the Los Angeles River at over $1 billion. It was a continuation of a public relations campaign over the summer to convince Washington to open its strained pocketbook in favor of a local project with considerable political capital.

The press conference, strategically held at Downey Pool, close to both the river and Los Angeles State Historic Park, presaged the first time since 2006 that the city would declare its priority publicly. Ironically, its partner, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, didn’t attend.

“I think you’re going to see an unprecedented push and an unprecedented effort of collaboration. We are dead serious about this, and we are aspiring to work together, to collaborate, to pool all the resources, working with the state, but also preparing to go to Washington, working with the Army Crops of Engineers to get the biggest package that we can for the city,” said newly elected Councilmember Gil Cedillo.

He, together with council colleagues Mitch O’Farrell and Tom LeBonge, made it clear that the city wants the federal government to spend $1 billion over the next several years to restore the Los Angeles River to  at least a semblance of what it once was, as will be outlined in the Corps’ Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study (ARBOR), which cost $10 million and seven years to complete.

Even though the actual study, along with its four restoration alternatives, won’t be released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers until Sept. 20, politicians and river advocates are lining up in support of the most expensive plan. After ARBOR’s release, there will be a 45-day public comment period and a public meeting on Oct. 17. Although a month away from the report’s official release by the Army Corps., the broad outline has been available for weeks.

A few hours later, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously “to endorse a Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study alternative that results in the most expansive ecosystem restoration.”

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti sent a letter to Washington advocating for the same thing.

“The ARBOR study Alternative 20 will begin to reweave the city and the watershed together,” said Lewis MacAdams, who established Friends of the Los Angeles River, and is now considered the “grandfather” of the current restoration effort. “It will bring the river together with the mountains, and it will bring the people together with the habitat, miles of concrete will be destroyed. It would begin to payback with this billion dollars all the work that’s been done to destroy the L.A. River.”

MacAdams recounted how, as an old-time Army Corps of Engineers fighter, he was surprised to be invited to a teleconference between the L.A. District and the national headquarters in Washington a couple of months ago. He went on to say he was shocked when I saw what was going to become the proposal of the L.A. district, Alternative 20.

By contrast, Alternative 13., said to be favored in Washington and the least expensive of the plans, has a projected cost of just under $450 million to pull concrete and make other habitat changes along the 11 miles of the river from downtown to Griffith Park.

“We’re Los Angeles. We deserve a $1 billion investment in the Los Angeles River. We’re going to fight for this,” O’Farrell said.

See you on the river, Jim Burns


Quick mends: Buy a Fly-Carpin’ T-shirt for Carp Slam 7 fundraiser

cropped-carpslamheadWith so much going on for our river, it’s easy to forget about other restoration efforts around the country.CarpSlam7-2013-Brochure is coming up Saturday, Sept. 7, to benefit the South Platte.  Denver Trout Unlimited has used past proceeds to restore:

  • $11,000 to South Platte Suburban Parks and Recreation District Project
  • $14,000 to Overland Park Pond Restoration
  • $25,000 to River South Project

To raise additional money for the effort, McTage over at Fly Carpin’ has designed a T-shirt and is selling it on EBay.  It’s $18 and the proceeds will go to Trout Unlimited’s restoration efforts.


See you on the river, Jim Burns


Days tick off for Army Corps unveiling of L.A. River possible makeovers

Take a look at that raging L.A. River, bottom left, in the previous century. (Courtesy Library of Congress)
Take a look at that raging L.A. River, bottom left, in the previous century. (Courtesy Library of Congress)

As the Army Corps readies its public unveiling of four revisions of the L.A. River, take a look at this insanely nostalgic set of 25 photos of the pre-concrete river at Curbed L.A. Just how much concrete will come out will be a matter of public debate, even in this time of diminishing federal dollars, so get ready to comment. I’ll list a link once it’s available.

Also, we’re closing in on Labor Day and the end of the recreation zone pilot project. Walt Young of the  MRCA says that all went well  from the quasi-public agency’s view, which is good news for the zone’s renewal next year.

So, if you haven’t wetted that fly line yet, get out there!

See you on the river, Jim Burns


High-country fly fishing beyond Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows

This high-country brook trout wears its hybridized spots well. (Will Burns)
This high-country brook trout wears its hybridized spots well. (Will Burns)

Few experiences in the fly-fishing world satisfy quite like pulling a trout from a mountain stream on a dry. Maybe that sounds corny, a little like the Hallmark card version of our sport, but it’s true.

— I don’t care if the fish is big.

— I don’t care if I match the hatch.

— I don’t even care if I have to do the Curtis Creek Sneak.

Because I am just plain lucky, my son also shares this fascination, which we enjoyed last week on some Yosemite creeks on the eastern-most edge of this fabulous park.But to get to the good stuff — even in very low water years such as this one — you’ve got to do some research.

Probably the best place to start is with California Fly Fisher magazine, which you can buy at your local fly shop. But remember that no matter how good the information when written, you won’t know what a piece of water is really like until you’ve fished it for yourself. And vacation time being so much more precious than work time, always be prepared with Plan B if your first choice doesn’t work out.

One of the biggest items to consider before spending those precious days is water flow. The Sierra is notorious for both ends of this equation, both super high and really low. Any So. Californian can tell you that we got a few drops of rain this season, and any environmentalist can throw around the fact that the Sierra snow pack is expected to shrink by half in this century.

Sometimes "getting down" isn't just about the music. (Will Burns)
Sometimes “getting down” isn’t just about the music. (Will Burns)

In low-water years, streams can dry up entirely, and you have to be on your technical game to land the residents of very low-running water. We had brookies spot us from 30 feet out in their scant foot of water. And who knows why, but even from that distance, if you point your finger at them, they scatter, breaking the stillness of the pool.

When’s the last time you practiced casting while you’re down on both knees? Stealth and an accurate cast are what it takes to land this very spooky fish.

The first two days, we plied two creeks full of brook trout and what looked to be an achingly beautiful hybrid between brookies and goldens. We saw, maybe, 10 other people, tops, and no one else fishing. That’s called dry-fly heaven.

The next day, with several dozen successfully released fish already under our belts, we decided to sample the Tuolumne River as it runs through its namesake meadows.  The fishing was terrible, partially because of rock throwers, inner tubers and the like, but gazing through pure, sweet mountain water as it undulated over the taffy-colored granite bottom washed away our no-fish cares. Still, we agitated to get into more fish and fewer folks.

As we walked back to Will’s car, we joked that in the same way we could tell when we approached a waterfall– by sound — now we could tell we were close to the parking lot by the annoying “be-bee-beee” of a car alarm. Little did we realize that it was his car’s alarm going off, squeezed as it was between a pair lumbering F-150s.

I’m sure there are ironic depths to that story, but my point is the chaos of hundreds — thousands — of innocently lost park-goers, as well as oriented, determined ones, and their cars, bikes and visiting tour buses, shouldn’t dissuade you from fishing the Tioga side of the park. With research, it is easy to completely beat the crowds. The $20 admission fee gets you in for a week, and after holding your breath going up the Tioga Pass, you might have to hold it again because of the area’s otherworldly beauty. It’s within 40 minutes’ drive of Mammoth Lakes and June Lake is also right there.

And as you release that hard-earned trout, remember wild, native fish are a gift we must preserve and share with future generations.

See you on the river, Jim Burns