During this weekend’s middle river section cleanup, I decided to walk off the beaten path in search of a fishing line recycler at Bowtie Parcel. I’d never spent any time at the oddly named area, but the sky was clear, the wind, light, as I walked across an inauspicious patch of land.
Conservation corps. members unloaded the latest haul of garbage from a flatbed into a large debris container. As I walked, the desert sand underfoot felt ugly and crunchy, threatening, not anything like the beautiful Marsh Park that lies almost directly across the river.
Squinting into unrelenting sunshine, I zeroed in on a distant sign, and as I approached remembered exactly where I was — the beginning of the Bowtie Interpretive Walk. At last, I’d made it.
Last year, during one of FoLAR’s fish study outings to Long Beach, I’d met a fisher who was obviously new to the game. He held his tenkara rod in the way we all did at some point earlier in our fishing avocations: pridefully, tentatively, respectfully, as if he didn’t quite know yet what it was capable of, nor what it might coax from his spirit. I envied him in that moment, because, for me, discovering fly fishing was the beginning of true love. As with all true loves, it still is.
Rosten Woo, the artist, had invited me to tour his interpretive walk months ago, but because of work schedules and the vagaries of a Los Angeles life, I’d not met his invitation, yet here I was, finding it, while playing a bit of cleanup hooky.
I’d been intrigued by his description: numbered signs set up along an urban path with the innovative use of SoundCloud for the audio tour. Bring headphones, he’d said, so that you could really hear what’s going on.
Sans headphones, yet enjoying the 30-minute urban audio tour today, I learned that California State Parks purchased this section — shaped like a bowtie — from Union Pacific Railroad for almost $11 million in 2003. The plan is to weave its 10-plus acres into an 100-acre park.
As the tour unfolded over more than 40 minutes and a mile of walking, I learned many things:
— Pine trees hate palm trees. Odd as that sounds, there’s a reason why.
— Eventually L.A. will be “palm less” again.
— Monarch butterflies need native milkweed to survive.
— NEIS means “North East Interceptor Sewer” and may hold the key to the park’s future.
— The first and most vocal proponents of native horticulture — the Nazis.
And that wasn’t even halfway through the walk.
Eventually, the audio tour ended and I found that fishing line container, scarred by graffiti, but there, all the same, a lonely sentinel and reminder not to ruin what we are gifted. And as I gazed at the river’s fluttering water down the riprap, it was like looking into the future.
Don’t ever believe we can’t have what we want from our politicians, our urban planners, our dedicated dreamers. We very ordinary folk want this river to be returned to our city. And anyone who can squint, as Rosten did, easily sees why.
When truly great things happen for wild steelhead recovery, it is important to share the news. We took one of the greatest steps forward in wild steelhead recovery yesterday at the mouth of the Klamath River. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, California Governor Jerry Brown and Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed new amendments to the Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement (KHSA) and a related Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement. The revised KHSA will ensure that removal of 4 major dams on the Klamath River takes place as scheduled in the year 2020, opening about 500 miles of wild steelhead habitat. Take a moment to thank Secretary Sally Jewell, California Governor Jerry Brown, and Oregon Governor Kate Brown.
To learn more, read the story by Sam Davidson below.
Major win for one of America’s best coldwater fisheries
By Sam Davidson
Five hundred miles. That’s a pretty significant distance, right? Now, imagine swimming that far.
That’s how many river miles will re-opened to native steelhead in the Klamath River under the terms of a revised agreement between the federal government, the states of California and Oregon, and the utility company PacifiCorp.
The amended Klamath Hydropower Settlement Agreement, and the Klamath Power and Facilities Agreement were signed today at the mouth of the Klamath River by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan, Gov. Edmund G. Brown, Jr., of California, Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon and PacifiCorp CEO Stefan Bird.
Under the new-and-improved KHSA, four old, unproductive hydropower dams on the Klamath River will be removed beginning in the year 2020. This action will open up 500 miles of habitat for steelhead and some 420 miles for salmon.
PacifiCorp and the state of California will pay for the cost of dam removal using existing funds already set aside for this purpose. No federal funds will be required.
“This is a major win for one of America’s greatest coldwater fisheries,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The river restoration called for under the new KHSA will be the largest in U.S. history. TU is proud to have played an important role in the long effort to bring about this restoration and to resolve one of our country’s most intractable water challenges.”
TU California Director Brian Johnson has been closely involved in the many years of difficult negotiations that led to the amended agreement. Johnson attended the signing ceremony today and spoke to the benefits of the agreement for fish—and people.
“The Klamath, historically, has been the third most productive river system for salmon and steelhead on the West Coast,” he said. “Thanks to the leadership of Secretary Jewell, Gov. Brown of California and Gov. Brown of Oregon, and PacifiCorp, we now have a real chance to return it to its former glory.”
At the same time, Johnson added, “TU remains dedicated not only to restoring one of America’s greatest salmon and steelhead fisheries, but also to adoption of durable water-sharing agreements that will provide greater water security for tribes, upper basin agriculture and communities up and down the river.”
TU issued a joint statement today on the signing of the amended KHSA, with the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, California Trout, the Northern California Council of the International Federation of Fly Fishers and American Rivers. The statement declares strong support for dam removal on the Klamath and calls for renewed commitment to a “basin-wide solution for water sharing, water supply infrastructure, and habitat restoration.”
UPDATE: Response from the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power —
The Inyo County Water Department has submitted a grant application to the California River Parkways Grant Program for funds to establish the Lower Owens River Water Trail. This trail will occupy a portion of the Lower Owens River Project (LORP), which is a large scale river restoration project jointly managed by the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Inyo County, and occurs on City of Los Angeles property.
LADWP is in support of the concept of the Lower Owens River Trail. However, prior to moving forward, Inyo County will need to work with LADWP to determine if construction and long term operations and maintenance of the Lower Owens River Trail conflicts with the goals of the LORP, pose environmental impacts, and/or other issues.
The opportunity to explore unlikely waterways in unlikely places in California may soon increase, adding another one to your bucket list.
By late June, the California Natural Resources Agency will decide if it wants to fund a $500,000 grant to establish the Owens River Water Trail. If funded, the trail would include more than six miles of the lower Owens near the town of Lone Pine on the eastern face of the Sierra. It’s a possibility that enthuses those who love the outdoors.
“The Trout Unlimited regional office, located in Mammoth Lakes, supports the proposed Owens River Water Trail Project. We encourage the diversification of fishing opportunity in the Eastern Sierra, particularly since the cold-water fishery in the northern part of Inyo County receives heavy pressure,” said TU’s regional representative Jessica Strickland in an email. “Distributing angling pressure across the county would not only improve the fishery, but also the fisherman’s experience.”
If funded, the trail would join one around the San Francisco Bay as a new recreational destination in the state, and would possibly be the only river water trail.
But, whereas the Bay Area water trail is described as “a non-linear trail with no beginning or end,” the river trail would have defined put in and take out points centering around this small town of just over 2,000.
Larry Freilich, mitigation manager for the Inyo County Water District, has build an impressive group of supporters for the project, with letters of recommendation from the American Canoe Association, to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, to the owner of the local McDonalds. All told more than two dozen organizations, local buisnesses and individuals support widening the tule-choked waterway.
Yet, the tules can only be tamed if old politics can be forgotten.
When the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power began pumping more court-ordered water into the lower Owens in 2011, fly fishers rejoiced at the possibility of exploring another waterway closer to home. Unfortunately, besides mitigating dust from the dry Owens Lake, the unintended consequence of the $39-million Lower Owens River Project was increased tule growth over the river’s 62 miles that all but choked off recreational fishing, drift-boating and kayaking.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Mark Hill, lead scientist of the LORP, explaining the increased flow created 3,000 acres of water and wetlands, 4,000 largemouth bass and 2,000 bluegill per mile, as well as 108 species of birds, 41 of them new to the area at that time.
With this kind of wildlife resurgence, access for fisherfolk, kayakers and birders remains a major issue and one seen by some in town as impeding new recreational activities. And outdoor recreation is big business. According to The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership 37 million Americans hunt and fish, spending $58 billion annually.
“Although CalTrout has not been involved, we do support the project and notion of increasing recreational opportunities within the Owen Valley corridor. Importantly to us is trying to enhance the awareness of source water to end users and this project could help support that concept,” said Mark Drew, Ph.D., Director, Sierra Headwaters Program, California Trout Director, Inyo-Mono Integrated Regional Water Management Program, via email.
For Angelinos not entirely sure what “awareness of source water to end users” means, one of the greatest water grabs in history literally drained the Owens River Valley in favor of a then-small-city of Los Angeles some 100 miles to the south. L.A. would have never become our favorite megapolis without the city purchasing 250,000 acres in Inyo County, along with its water rights. The story of Irish immigrant William Mulholland, his famous quote, “There it is, take it,” and the creation of the aqueduct in 1913 are well known.
But what was once considered an Industrial Revolution-strength feat of politicking, engineering and deception now plays to a new generation, one in which Elon Musk can pre-sell 276,000 Tesla Model 3 electric cars in 48 hours, and kayaking trips are offered on two different sections of the Los Angeles River each summer, thanks to river activist George Wolfe’s rebellious kayaking efforts that ended with the Environmental Protection Agency declaring the L.A. River protected under the Clean Water Act.
Now, a mere eight years later, the L.A. River is poised for a $1 billion makeover, to liberate at least some of its 51 miles from concrete and restore its ecosystem.
To abate the clog of tules – 8 feet high and 10 feet wide in some sections — the water’s owner must fully sign on to the project. Although both phone and email requests for an interview to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power went unanswered, its stance on the proposed water trail project, at least at the time of this writing, is conditional at best.
In a letter dated Aug. 21, 2015, James G. Yannotta, LADWP’s aqueduct manager, wrote: “The Inyo County Water Department’s current proposal for grant funding includes new infrastructure and channel excavation activities that were not originally contemplated in the original Plan, and also in new locations than were previously considered. As a result, LADWP is in support of exploring the feasibility of the new project but cannot yet grant authorization to proceed with implementation without more information regarding potential impacts and and/or conflicts with LORP goals. Therefore, LADWP would like to extend support for grant funding through the planning stage and subsequent evaluation under the California Environmental Quality Act for the Lower Owens River Water Trail.”
The original plan Yannotta cites is the Lower Owens River Project Recreation Use Plan (LORP).
Other potential opposition to the plan – and included in the grant proposal – included some ranchers who voiced concern about being sued if a gate was left open and a cow wandered onto a road and was hit, fisherfolks worried secret fishing spots would be identified, and Native American tribes concerned about pot hunting and disturbances of cultural sites.
The application contains straightforward solutions to these problems: for ranchers, install cattle guards, and include “how to behave in cattle country” interpretive materials and signage; for fishers, print map areas that are popular and accessible, so as to keep the best spots secret; and for Native Americans, identify sensitive sites and route use elsewhere, and include educational information in interpretive materials and signage.
The next move is twofold: for the LADWP to give the project its unconditional support; and, of course, to see if the CNRA considers $500,000 the right price for a new generation of recreation.