Just north of downtown — and a stone’s throw from the growling 5 Freeway — the concrete bed of the Los Angeles River gives way to soft earth and an explosion of riparian life: Cottonwood and sycamore trees push skyward, while fish dart beneath the swooping shadows of cackling waterfowl. The scents of mulefat scrub and sage hang in the air.
For many, it’s a vision of what the Los Angeles River looked like before it was transformed into a massive flood control channel. It also serves as a rallying point for those environmentalists who want to see the river returned to a more natural state.
But what few Angelenos realize is that for much of the year, this thriving river habitat is sustained by a constant flow of treated wastewater.
Although melting snowpack and torrential rains send water coursing along the river from time to time, most of the water originated from the sinks, dishwashers, bathtubs, toilets and washing machines of millions of homes and businesses before it was treated in sewage plants and released into the river.
Now, as climate change stokes recurring cycles of drought, cities are increasingly looking to recycle this treated wastewater even before it reaches the river’s graffiti-marred concrete. With Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledging to recycle 100% of the city’s wastewater by 2035, and the cities of Burbank and Glendale also looking to increase wastewater recycling, the 51-mile river has suddenly become a battleground between environmentalists and wastewater recycling advocates.
UPDATE: The Pasadena City Council hearing has been continued until Monday, July 19, 4:30 p.m.
From Tim Brick, Arroyo Seco Foundation:
We need your help to save Arroyo Seco trout now!
The Arroyo Seco Foundation is working to restore conditions for steelhead in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains. Yes, steelhead – the anadromous form of Coastal Rainbow Trout. We are collaborating with a variety of agencies and organizations on the LA River Fish Passage Program in downtown Los Angeles and on an assessment of watershed conditions in the mountainous reaches of the Arroyo Seco.
Pasadena has prepared an Environmental Impact Report on the Arroyo Seco Canyon Project (ASCP), which will increase water diversions from the Arroyo Seco stream, a major tributary of the Los Angeles River system that is critical to steelhead recovery prospects. ASCP will build a new five-foot dam and diversion facility to divert additional water from the Arroyo Seco stream for domestic use by the Pasadena Water & Power Department (PWP).
The National Marine Fisheries Service has declared the Southern California steelhead an endangered species and prepared a steelhead recovery plan that includes the Arroyo Seco and the Los Angeles River.
The goal of this recovery plan is to prevent the extinction of southern California steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the wild and to ensure the long‐term persistence of viable, self‐sustaining, populations of steelhead distributed across the Southern California Distinct Population Segment (DPS). It is also the goal of this recovery plan to re‐ establish a sustainable southern California steelhead sport fishery.
While the Arroyo Seco was once home to a thriving population of rainbow trout and steelhead, steelhead have been blocked since 1920 from returning to their mountain home in the Angeles National Forest. Native Rainbow Trout have been present since then in the Arroyo Seco, although the Station Fire and the extended drought of recent years have made conditions difficult for those fish.
Based on survey techniques described by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as inadequate, Pasadena’s ASCP EIR states that there are no fish in the Arroyo. Pasadena’s projections for water availability are based on historical weather and streamflow patterns and do not consider the likely impact of climate change. The design of the new dam and diversion structure do not provide for two-way fish passage around or through those facilities nor for an environmental flow to protect the fish and aquatic species during dry periods as required by CA Fish and Game Code Sections 5901 and 5937.
Throughout the environmental review, the Arroyo Seco Foundation has asserted that Rainbow Trout are still present in the Arroyo Seco and that Pasadena has done an inadequate job of finding and documenting them. The ASCP EIR was tentatively approved by a Pasadena hearing officer on January 6th, but ASF joined with the Pasadena Audubon Society and several individuals to block EIR certification by appealing the decision. The matter was then considered in March by the Pasadena Board of Zoning Appeals, which added a few new conditions to the EIR. ASF and PAS again appealed that decision and forced EIR certification to be considered by the Pasadena City Council. A hearing date for that matter has now been set for next Monday, July 12, 2021.
During the appeal period, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced that they had conducted a Rainbow Trout rescue program on the West Fork of the San Gabriel River after the Bobcat Fire last Fall. CDFW personnel translocated 469 native Rainbow Trout into the Arroyo Seco canyon in the area to be impacted by Pasadena’s ASCP program.
Faced with irrefutable evidence of the presence of many Rainbow Trout, Pasadena has not changed its position regarding the design and operation of the new dam and diversion structure that they plan to build. They state that when steelhead passage from the Pacific Ocean is restored, they will evaluate various ways to meet the requirements of the relevant sections of the Fish and Game Code.
The Fish and Game Code requirements for fish and passage and environmental flows, however, are not limited to steelhead trout. They apply to any fish as well as to other aquatic species that would be trapped by the PWP facilities. Clearly it will be difficult and expensive to retrofit the dam and diversion facilities at some distant point in the future when the steelhead return. This is the time to do it to protect the fish that are there now and to establish better conditions for the future.
We are disappointed in Pasadena’s cynical dereliction of its environmental responsibility. We believe that Pasadena and its Water & Power Department must be good stewards of the natural resources they exploit.
Send a Letter to Pasadena Mayor Gordo and the City Council Today
We urge you and your organization to send a letter to Pasadena Mayor Victor Gordo (email@example.com) and the City Council this week urging them to require PWP to alter the design and operation of any new dam and diversion facilities to accommodate fish passage and to provide an environmental flow during critical periods as required by Fish and Game Code Sections 5901 and 5937.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or need any further information.
An amazing story from the incomparable Los Angeles Times environmental writer Louis Sahagun: “In an era of increasing drought and nearly back-to-back wildfires, state conservationists have been working overtime in the San Gabriel Mountains to rescue frogs, fish and other species facing potential oblivion by rounding up populations of threatened animals and transporting them to safer areas.
While most of these efforts have occurred in obscurity, one recent mission to save hundreds of doomed rainbow trout has touched off a heated battle between humans and fish over the clear waters of Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco. The controversy has also served to highlight the challenges wildlife biologists now face as they search for havens amid Southern California’s patchwork of urban development, wildfire scars and seasonal mudslides.”
From the Arroyo Seco Foundation: The California Department of Fish & Wildlife has recently listed the Arroyo Seco in the Los Angeles River as a candidate site for its Fisheries Restoration Program. This is the first time anything has ever been listed in the LA River Watershed for steelhead restoration. The Arroyo Seco Foundation has been invited to submit a proposal by April 13.
The Arroyo Seco Foundation is now putting together a proposal to develop a steelhead recovery program in this critical stream. The program will include analysis of barriers, sediment, trout habitat conditions and a trout population survey. It will also take a preliminary look at an obsolete Forest Service dam 3.5 miles into the upper watershed of the Arroyo Seco in the Angeles National Forest, Brown Mountain Dam, that blocks the prime spawning habitat in the mountains.
To be competitive in CDFW’s grant process, we need to provide a substantial match for the CDFW funding requested. The steelhead recovery program won’t begin until June of next year, but we need your commitment by Friday, April 9
Can you help us by providing financial support or in-kind services for the steelhead recovery program?
Get in touch with ASF Managing Director Tim Brick — (email@example.com (626) 639-4092) — right away! (That means by Friday, April 9th)
We welcome partners in the steelhead recovery program.
The Arroyo Seco Foundation will host the Pasadena Mayoral Candidates Forum on the Environment to be held in the Donald Wright Auditorium of the Pasadena Central Library, 285 E. Walnut St. in Pasadena on Tuesday, January 14, 2020 from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. The theme of the event will be “How Green Should Pasadena Be?” Topics to be covered will include climate change, the Arroyo Seco, trees and other issues of local concern.
The program will begin with a brief opening statement from each of the four candidates on their environmental record and views. The candidates include Jason Hardin, Victor Gordo, Major Williams and current Mayor Terry Tornek. Following the initial statements, there will be a panel of local environmental leaders who will ask questions of the candidates. The public will also be invited to ask questions of the candidates. The event will conclude at 8:30 pm.
The discussion is a timely event since the primary election for the Mayor’s race will be held on March 3, 2020.
“We are pleased that all four candidates have confirmed their participation,” said Tim Brick, Managing Director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, “and look forward to a lively discussion of critical environmental concerns and solutions.”
At its recent quarterly meeting, the Wildlife Conservation Board approved approximately $28.7 million in grants to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California, including one for the Los Angeles River, according to its website.
A $1.4 million grant to the Council for Watershed Health for a cooperative project with the city of Los Angeles, the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, the Friends of the Los Angeles River and the Arroyo Seco Foundation for a planning project to provide designs, permits and environmental review for addressing impaired mobility for southern steelhead trout and other native fish along more than four miles of the Los Angeles River in downtown Los Angeles.