Tag: Army Corps of Engineers

Hey, where’d my run go?

Here’s the view Saturday afternoon from the Hwy 2 overpass looking south into the LA River. Note that there’s been grading activity on the eastern side of the riverbed.                           (Courtesy Steve Kuchenski)

Pasadena Casting Club Conservation Committee member Steve Kuchenski and I talked about this at the Faire yesterday in Glendale, and he was nice enough to share this image with readers. Several times, places I’ve loved to fish on the LA have either been disrupted by Army Corps bulldozers, or swept away in high flows, due to winter rains and a lack of actual riverbed structure. Anybody remember the great bass disappearance from a few years back?

See you on the river, Jim Burns

Quick mends: Army Corps to erect barriers, cut vegetation in Glendale Narrows

VIEW from the Glendale/Hyperion Bridge in 1937. (Courtesy LA Public Library)
VIEW from the Glendale/Hyperion Bridge in 1937.
(Courtesy LA Public Library)


The barriers are going up now on east sidea of river. I was in the north Atwater park area and they are working their way south from Colorado Blvd. They have have made it to the park. Lights were being turned on and it didnt look like they were stopping for the night. Forget about any river access in that area!


I found this recent story that I saw on TV news as well as read in the L.A. Times pretty confusing. From the story:

“We’re hoping for the best, but we’re going to continue to prepare for the worst,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “… If [the river] floods, there is risk of significant damage, not to mention real and immediate danger to Angelenos.”

If you’ve been down to Glendale Narrows, you know that the river encasement is already high, 20 feet, according to the U.S. Army Corps Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study so what could a temporary four-foot-high barrier accomplish that isn’t already there? And for $4.5 million?

But the more vexing part of this emergency solution is “removing debris.” If the Corps removes the islands and plant life that dot the area, you can kiss the only structure fish have goodbye. It’s also a very healthy bird habitat. The NBC story indicates this is already taking place. Here’s the 2013 draft redesign plan for that area:

(U.S. Army Corps)
(U.S. Army Corps)

Existing Channel Features – The existing trapezoidal channel within the sub-reach varies from grouted rock to concrete paved channel, is 310 feet wide from the top of bank and 20 feet high from the invert.

Preliminary Channel Design – As seen in Figure 4.12, ” Cross-Section 5, Los Feliz Boulevard to Glendale Freeway,” the proposed design would construct four concrete terraced planters in the left/east bank of the channel slope. The right/west bank of the trapezoidal bank would be replaced by a 22-foot-high vertical retaining wall with subdrainage under the invert slab, which would meet the existing top of bank. Two riprap toedowns would be constructed below the channel bottom and bank. The first riprap toedown would be constructed on the right/west bank and the second that would include bank protection, would be located on the left/east bank. Two 16-foot-wide asphalt concrete maintenance roads would be constructed on the land of the retaining walls on the top of bank. The existing cobble/soft bottom would be protected in place and expanded 27 feet towards the proposed right/west bank of the channel.

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


Quick Mends: Fighting the good fight from Vermont to the Hahamonga

Dating from 1943, it's fair to ask what purpose this federal dam serves today (Jim Burns).
Dating from 1943, it’s fair to ask what purpose this federal dam atop the Hahamonga watershed serves today (Jim Burns).

All right, even on the West Coast, we realize Vermont is famous for maple syrup, but what about the American Museum of Fly Fishing in Manchester, Vt.? Not so much.

Still, according to American River’s River Blog, the two organizations have partnered up to highlight eco-education. At a recent AMFF meeting, Steve White, who runs American Rivers’ Anglers Fund, talked about  protection and restoration of vital fish habitat through dam removals, and Wild and Scenic designations, among other topics.

Meanwhile, the PBS NewsHour continues to cover restoration efforts for California’s  San Joaquin River, which may be the largest river restoration project in the country. These troubled financial times may set the project back several decades, a project in which $100 million has been spent thus far, with a projected cost of $2 billion.

Closer to home, the Arroyo Seco Foundation and a bevy of environmental activists wonder why Edison continues to receive an E-ticket ride to trash the Hahamonga habitat in the verdant canyon area next to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. At issue, the city of Pasadena granted Edison a utility easement through Hahamongna Watershed Park for its power poles heading north/south to Jet Propulsion Laboratory more than 60 years ago. The giant electric utility claims that the easement gives it the right to maintain access to the poles that lead along the west side of the park from near Devil’s Gate Dam all the way up to JPL, according to ASF’s website.

Concerned residents have lobbied the city and are ready to fight the utility, particularly after losing the battle to protect the Arcadia Oak Grove in 2011. What the Los Angeles Times described as a “a prized grove of more than 200 oaks and sycamores,” owned by the county Department of Public Works, was reduced to stumps and sawdust as the agency prepared the site to take on 500,000 cubic yards of silt, rocks and vegetation to be scooped out of Santa Anita Reservoir.

Meanwhile, we’re all waiting for the verdict of the U.S. Army Corps on the restoration of the Los Angeles River. Watch this space to find out which of the various proposals will get the green light.

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

New L.A. River funding brings new questions

From top left, clockwise, the tranquility of carp-filled pools, at the beginning of Glendale Narrows. Once you get past the city locks, you can see self-shadows and nifty bridge architecture. (Jim Burns)

The Buddhists say that the curse of the human realm is change. And if you live long enough, you tend to agree with them.

Of course, even if you haven’t lived a long time, only a fool won’t recognize that change comes in two flavors: good and bad. Maybe some would quibble with me and argue change can be neutral, but those changes aren’t the ones any of us remember. A neutral change is akin to no change. Most of us see the world in Manichaean terms — a big word for good versus evil. Change is flavored by one side or the other.

Maybe that’s a tad too much philosophy for a Monday morning, perhaps a shadow of tomorrow’s election, but change felt palpable on the river this weekend, and I wondered which flavor it would eventually be.

I took advantage of the 80-degree weather to explore three favorite fishy spots, looking for carp. One thing that doesn’t change — I often get skunked by these elusive fish. Water in the Glendale Narrows section is two-to-three feet deep in most spots. Consequently, fish see you as quickly as you spot them. And, at least on the fly, sight fishing is the best way to land one, and it has certain risks.

My boots scraped down the river’s  rip-rap skin, close to the giant bunkerlike concrete abutments that once held electric Red Line tracks, jutting out from the old Glendale Avenue bridge. There, the wide concrete swatch of the river’s artificial bottom is entirely concrete, and as I watched the water’s constant flow, I realized this vista I’d taken for granted was vulnerable to change.

By now, if you follow “riverly” events, you know that clothier Miss Me has  breathed new life into the stalled keystone environmental feasibility study with a substantial gift. As Molly Peterson reported for KPCC: “The Army Corps of Engineers study, nicknamed  ARBOR (Alternative with Restoration Benefits and Opportunities for Revitalization), was $970,000 short of the $9.7 million needed to proceed.”

And the clothing company has offered almost $1 million to close that funding gap. The Corps lead planner Kathleen Bergmann recently told me that the money has to pass through some approval hoops. “We are moving forward on last year’s funds.  While funds have been offered, we must receive permission to receive those funds, and sign an agreement.  Congress has set up a very precise method for doing this, and must be notified as well. We are in the process of taking those steps to get approval to receive the funds.”

So green is green, and it’s great to know that the money is finally available, even given the ridiculous amount of time it’s taken to fully fund the study during the Great Recession.

“Remember that the fundamental purpose of the Study is to improve the ecosystem values in the LA River– and that means riparian habitat that is good for wildlife, including fish species,” said Carol Armstrong, director of the Los Angeles River Project office. “The Study will go public with its alternatives early next year. Once finished, it will recommend one of those as its recommended project, which will then go to Washington, DC, for approval by the federal powers-that-be. So, those alternatives are under development now. Basically we’re moving from Study to Project now that the Study is fully funded.”

I believe it’s a given that at least sections of concrete are on their way out. Since I began this post on a mystical note, look at the signs.

— The Paddle the River program, although only around for eight weeks a year, is in its second year, with a five-year contract. Now apparently,  program leaders have aspirations to paddle the seven miles of Glendale Narrows as well.

— Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB1201 into law this year, which broadens the L.A. County Dept. of Public Works 100-year-old mission of flood control and storm water management to include education and recreation. Friends of the L.A. River and UCLA’s Environmental Law Clinic spearheaded the effort that was then introduced by State Senator Kevin de Leon.

— I haven’t heard of any tickets being issued to those plying the river’s bottom during the last few years.

— Also, I haven’t heard of LAPD harassment of activists since Jenny Price’s  river tour was disrupted over a turf war some three years ago.

Add to all that Arroyo Seco Foundation Exec Tim Brick’s recent grant acquisition of over $3 million to improve the Hahamongna watershed above JPL in Pasadena. As he wrote me in an email, “A key goal of this project is to improve conditions for the trout and other fish in the Arroyo stream.  The water intake facilities were not designed to protect the fish, but we want to change that by redesigning the facilities and improving the habitat there. This brief video shows the facilities and the area to be improved: Water Facilities in Hahamongna Canyon.”

It’s time for optimism, to see the change as very good. In other words, this puppy is going to happen, because after decades of inertia, the political will has arrived to bring in the bucks.

But am I the only one who gets a little nervous with big money?

As I trudged along in the autumn heat, marveling at this wonderful liquid behemoth, I wondered what the change would actually look like, and I felt that nagging bite of Manichaeism again. I want to be able to fly fish, enjoy the din of the I-5, ponder the eastern vistas of Griffith Park. I don’t want to buy souvenir T-shirts a la San Antonio’s River Walk stalls, although enjoying a crafted beer by water’s edge wouldn’t be all bad.

So let me ask you, what do you want?

— See you on the river, Jim Burns