A unanimous decision by the Supreme Court today sided with the Los Angeles County Flood District on the debate over pollution from urban runoff.
On the question of "Does the flow of water out of a concrete channel within a river rank as a 'discharge of a pollutant'? The Supreme Court says "no." The court based its opinion on a previous finding from 2004's South Florida Water Management District versus Miccosukee Tribe, in which "we accepted that pumping polluted water from one part of a water body into another part of the same body is not a discharge of pollutants under the Clean Water Act." It then reversed the Ninth Circuit decision, which was in favor of environmentalists.
The original lawsuit was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Santa Monica Baykeeper in 2008. It sought to hold local governments accountable for untreated stormwater runoff that picks up high levels of pollutants on its way to the ocean.
"The court actually made a very narrow opinion and did not determine that the county is not responsible for its pollution. In fact, it didn't close the door. The county is still responsible for pollution that leaves its stormdrains and reaches the waterways in Los Angeles," says Liz Crosson, Santa Monica Baykeeper Executive Director. The group is currently evaluating its options to see what are its most viable next steps.
How could this have happened? What do they really want? How can we prevent this from ever happening again? These three questions were at the center of community discussions at last night's Encino Neighborhood Council (ENC) Parks Committee meeting, held at the Balboa Sports Complex in Encino.
Despite the weeks that have passed since the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society (SFV Audubon) first discovered the decimated wildlife area on the south side of Burbank Boulevard, there have been no satisfactory answers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
So far, the Army Corps has said it proceeded with this Vegetative Management project to temper lewd conduct, drug dealing, homelessness and illicit activities rampant in the area. "There are huge amount of large debris because of the homeless population. Large trees can also become problems when maintaining the flood gates," said David Van Dorpe, Deputy District Engineer for Project Management, United States Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District during a meeting of the Los Angeles River Cooperation Committee, a joint working group of major entities overseeing the Los Angeles River area, earlier the same day. Dorpe also clarified that bulldozers were not used during the clearing of the 43-acre area.
A man wearing a blood red hoodie cycled past me as I walked through the devastated remains of a Sepulveda Basin's South Wildlife Reserve. His solemn expression brooked no greeting. On his bike, he glided on the newly carved dirt roads left by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Fallen trees and charred leaves were littered on either side of him.
As I walked, I heard the soft squish of my shoes hitting the soil. Every so often, I stop and an eerie, incessant rustle starts on my side. I look and, after a few minutes, I see a small bird looking for refuge amid the ruin. This lush area now looked the way I would have imagined the forest to look after fires licked it clean in "Bambi." Nature, it appears, was banished; in its wake, an air of desolation settled.
By now, you may have heard that while the rest of us were planning our holidays last December, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were leveling an area in San Fernando Valley's Sepulveda Basin. The project was a Vegetative Management plan "to optimize wildlife habitat and native vegetation," according to the 2011 Sepulveda Dam Master Plan.
Much has been done to reconnect the Los Angeles River to its diverse communities, but still there are some loose ends that need to be tied.
Two grants recently awarded to Community Conservation Solutions (CCS) is set to close one such gap between Coldwater Canyon and Whitsett Avenue in Studio City.
Right now, Angelenos are simply treated to an intimidating sight when passing by. "At the moment, it's a bunch of barbed wire that's slowly rusting out. It's an eyesore and it's unsafe," said Alan Dymond, president of the Studio City Residents Association, which helped fund the grant application.
CCS has been awarded $751,000 from the CA Natural Resources Agency to extend the LA river trail and create public access to that half-mile stretch and $329,000 from Caltrans aimed at restoring the natural habitat by the river. "We're plugging holes in the LA River Trail to make it continuous," said Dymond.
Once completed, the crucial piece would create over five miles of continuous pathways along the Los Angeles River, bridging the area maintained by the Village Gardeners (http://www.kcet.org/socal/departures/lariver/confluence/river-notes/it-takes-a-village.html) to an existing river trail from Whitsett to Laurelgrove.
With the spate of exciting projects we've been covering around the Los Angeles River here at Confluence, one would be forgiven for thinking it is only in the 21st century we've thought to re-think the city's relationship with the river. But that isn't the case, as evidenced by this tantalizing Los Angeles Examiner article posted on native Angeleno and journalist George Garrigues's archive of Los Angeles in the 1900s.
As early as 1909, the Federated Improvement Association proposed a dam between Seventh and Nineth Street, extending as far north as Elysian Park, near where the Arroyo Seco meets the Los Angeles River.
The plan would have created a man-made lake where Angelenos could leisurely kayak on a warm weekend. During the rainy season, the dam could be "opened," carrying dangerous flood waters away from residents' backyards.
The proposed lakeside area would have "beautiful terraces with myriads of flowers, palms, shrubbery and other greenery" that would compete in beauty with the Hudson River. "Thousands of electric lights, located on the dam, bridges and banks, will make the lake most picturesque by night, and it no doubt will be one of the most favored amusement features of Los Angeles."
Would you pay over 1,000 times more for something you could get for free? I didn't think so, but that's exactly what happens approximately 85 million times every day, as Americans consume water out of pre-packaged plastic bottles.
Bottled water costs 750 to 2,700 times more than tap, but millions of people pay for the privilege of drinking what is essentially tap water. While their choices may instantly slake their thirsts, it is also sucking Mother Nature dry.
Environmental research non-profit Pacific Institute estimates that it took three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water and the process of bottling the water produces more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide. That's not even taking into consideration additional resources needed to transport the bottles by trucks, cool it in refrigerators or, ideally, even recycling it.
Nature was out to play today at the much anticipated opening of Phase I of Glendale Narrows Riverwalk. A smattering of rain showered guests from local government, community leaders, and neighbors, as cyclists glided, horses pranced, and dogs jumped at the leash.
"[The Riverwalk] really improves the character of the riverside area," said John Pearson, the park's project manager. "In the past that's just been the back of Disney and Dreamworks lots. There's been graffiti, vandalism and gang activity back there."
What used to be a seedy, insecure lot has now been transformed into a half-mile of recreational area on the north bank of the Los Angeles river, newly lined with native California trees and shrubs. Benches, seating areas and wide-open paths welcome visitors, as well as a public art installation inspired by stop motion. An ornamental fencing depicting scenes from the Los Angeles River fabricated by artist Brett Goldstone delicately encloses this new community treasure.
"I've been waiting so long for this park to open," says resident mother Lea Ubas, who came to the opening with her son. "This is a change for good, especially for families."
Last May, we told you about the North Atwater Crossing Project, a new, multi-modal 21st century bridge being planned connecting Griffith Park to Atwater Village.
Now, the city is moving forward with the almost twenty-year project by calling for public comment on the proposed project in accordance with the California Environmental Quality Act. The initial study outlines the possible environmental effects of building a steel, cable-stayed bridge 325 feet long and 35 feet wide across the Los Angeles River.
The bridge would have two lanes, one for equestrian use and another for pedestrians and cyclists. No motorized vehicles will be allowed over the bridge. The pathways would be separated by a continuous structural beam that spans from one end of the bank to the other. Attached to the beam is a 140-foot tall pylon used to support the bridge deck with cables.
As outlined in the document, construction may have short-term impacts on the river environment due to removal of riparian vegetation. However, the city plans to restore the disturbed areas by re-planting native grasses and plants. It would also give the city a chance to mitigate the effects of invasive plant species currently found in that part of the river. In the long-run, constructing the bridge may also benefit the river due to decreased foot (and horse) traffic that would trample the native vegetation in order to cross the river. It also means increased safety for equestrians who often have to negotiate the slippery path to and from Griffith Park.
Comments must be received in writing by December 28, 2012. Read the report and submission details here.
No matter how good our intentions, sometimes the bureacratic hassle of implementing more environmentally friendly systems eventually discourages homeowners from doing the more conscientious thing. The City of Los Angeles is hoping to help with that.
Los Angeles has recently published a revised permitting process for simple residential graywater systems. Instead of an intimidating, time-consuming process that could take months of back and forth, Department of Building and Safety (LADBS) Green Building Chief Osama Younan says the permit could be approved in minutes.
The move is in response to a marked increased interest in implementing graywater systems from homeowners. A typical Los Angeles household uses about 243 gallons of water per day. With a greywater system, homeowners could re-use up to 80 percent of this water to irrigate plants and trees within their property, saving up to 50,000 gallons a year.
"We were getting homeowners and people interested in greywater but they're not technical people," said Younan, "I thought maybe having this simplified plan, showing them examples and leading them through the process would help."
If Harry Potter had Lord Voldemort, water quality managers and environmentalists have urban runoff and untreated stormwater, a toxic soup of pollutants that routinely make its way from the city's roadways and rooftops down to our waterways and oceans each time it rains.
Like He Who Must Not Be Named, urban runoff is difficult to pin down. It has no headquarters; urban runoff accumulates from millions of sources around the city and beyond.
The mixing of this foul brew begins whenever the rain falls. Rainwater -- which would normally seep into the soil to be filtered, cleaned and added to the groundwater supply -- instead meets impervious surfaces such as concrete roads and rooftops, sweeping up all the trash, animal feces, bacteria, oils, and residue we intentionally or inadvertently leave behind. The slush then makes it way to stormwater drains, and eventually into the waterways. The Council for Watershed Health estimates that on average 500,000 acre-feet of runoff escapes into the ocean from the Los Angeles basin, or about one-third of the county's annual water use.